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Corporate Crime, Until Death Do Us Part (and Beyond)

December 1, 2009

The death industry is at it again. In a previous post, we noted the billion-dollar pre-paid funeral scam by National Prearranged Services. In another more gruesome scandal, the leading funeral and cemetery company Service Corporation International (SCI) is accused in a class-action suit of dumping and desecrating human remains and of selling burial plots located on top of other scattered remains in their California Eden Memorial cemetery.

The company previously paid tens of millions of dollars to settle a similar suit brought by Florida regulators in 2003. According to the New York Times, plaintiffs in the suit charged the company for dumping and desecrating human remains and selling burial plots located on top of other remains.

An SCI funeral home was also named in a Washington Post story this spring for storing bodies in horrific conditions in its Virginia facility. Grandchildren of a retired Army colonel whose body was left rotting for months sued SCI on charges it “willfully, intentionally, recklessly and negligently defiled, degraded, humiliated and debased the body of Colonel DeGraff.”

SCI, based in Houston, is the nation’s largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services. The company was embroiled in what the Austin Chronicle in 1999 described as “what may be the biggest influence-buying scandal in recent state history,” a scandal involving then-Governor George W. Bush, who allegedly used the Governor’s office to obstruct state regulatory oversight of SCI while taking major campaign contributions from SCI CEO Robert Waltrip. SCI was investigated for mishandling bodies after the Texas funerals commissioner began an investigation into the company’s pricing practices. Consumer advocate Karen Leonard has criticized the company for its “state of the art” price gouging.

Nearing 80, Waltrip has led SCI for more than forty years. In 2008, he took home more than $2.7 million, while holding more than $12.8 million in stock options. His son Blair was forced out of the company in 2000.

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