McGaugh pushes bill to stop funeral fraud

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rep. Joe Don McGaugh will seek to add a significant amendment to a bill designed to prevent a troubling story of fraud at a funeral home from happening to anyone else.

A Ray County funeral home director, Toby Polley, was accused of defrauding nearly 160 families of the elderly who believed they were pre-paying him for their funeral services. Polley however never offered those services or refunded the people who paid; he was arrested in 2015 for smoking methamphetamine in a hearse near a casino, according to a Kansas City Star report.

Polley’s activities have not eluded the notice of some of Missouri’s state officials. Attorney General Josh Hawley filed a lawsuit against Polley for fraud in February, and last year, former Attorney General Chris Koster assisted the Ray County prosecutor in handling the case before he left office.

Now, McGaugh’s bill will seek to change the statute to better handle audits on funeral homes and decide if funeral homes are fiscally sound enough to offer pre-need services.

“If you think about people making conscious decision to contract with a funeral director and finding out in this situation that he was smoking methamphetamine and all of these contracts are gone… those families have to pick up the pieces,” McGaugh said at a hearing on his bill Tuesday.

The audits in his amendment would be transferred to the Division of Finance instead of under the Missouri Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors within the Division of Professional Registration. The underlying bill would change the number of public voting members on the board from 1 to 3.

Don Otto, the executive director of the Missouri Funeral Homes and Embalmers Association, said the underlying bill would not have stopped Polley’s activities, but he wholeheartedly supported McGaugh’s amendment.

“It’s time to put that auditing back to the people using money,” Otto said. “We think it’s past time for that to happen.”

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