A Laurinburg-based funeral home will continue to operate despite a threat by the state to revoke its permit.
The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service took disciplinary action this month against Ella Morris of Morris Funeral Home after an investigation found money missing from the cash reserves of Grace Mutual Burial Association over the last five years.
Morris denied the accusations, but declined to speak about the charges. She said that she plans to appeal.
Morris Funeral Home, with services in Laurinburg and Red Springs, could lose its permit to operate for three years. The state board has said that it would also revoke Morris’ funeral directing license if a portion of the money is not repaid.
According to the consent order, the suspensions would not take effect if Morris repays $6,838.32 and takes continuing education classes. Under state statute, the business can also continue to operate until a court rules on an appeal.
The state board first found missing money from the burial association in 2008, when a board examiner noted a cash shortage of $2,631.76. The state funeral board requested that Morris return the funds, but subsequent examinations in 2010 and 2011 found cash shortages of $6,859.22 and $7,006.42 respectively.
Board of Funeral Service Executive Director Peter Burke said some of the missing money was returned to the association and that is why Morris is only being asked to return a portion of the funds. No deadline has been set for the repayment.
Burke said there has been no discussion of criminal charges in the case.
As for Grace Mutual Burial Association, the consent order has said that it must be disbanded in three years’ time, at which point a court will decide the distribution of its assets. Even with the missing money, the association most likely has enough to fulfill its obligations to its members.
“That will have to be decided in court,” said Burke. “I believe what they will do is divide up the assets based on the members that are in existence in the association at that time. My recollection is that there is more than enough in there to accommodate the members right now with everything that they’ve invested.”
The association’s funds are currently frozen, however claims made upon the death of members will continue to be honored.
Morris was secretary-treasurer of Grace Mutual Burial Association, whose 60 members have paid into the association over time in order to receive an eventual $200 payout for funeral expenses upon their death.
The consent order also noted a violation during a September 2010 inspection of Morris Funeral Home in Red Springs conducted by board inspector Susan Mitchell.
“During the 2010 inspection, Inspector Mitchell found that the Red Springs location did not produce a General Price List, Casket Price List, Outer Burial Container Price List, or Statement of Goods and Services Selected for inspection,” the consent order said.
That violation was rectified in due course and no further action on the board’s part was required, Burke said.