Funeral home owners accused of spending pandemic relief funds on holidays, cosmetic surgery, jewellery and cryptocurrency

US

The owners of a US funeral home have been accused of spending nearly $900,000 (£723,000) in pandemic relief funds on things such as holidays, cosmetic surgery, jewellery and cryptocurrency.

Jon and Carie Hallford, owners of Return To Nature Funeral Home in Colorado, already face more than 200 criminal charges connected to last year’s discovery of 190 decaying bodies in a bug-infested storage building.

Those charges include corpse abuse, money laundering, theft and forgery, including allegations they gave families dry concrete instead of cremated ashes, collected money for burials and cremations they never provided, and buried the wrong body on two occasions.

Now they face 15 further charges alleging they spent $882,300 (£708,000) in pandemic relief funds on items including two vehicles – a GMC Yukon and an Infiniti worth over $120,000, trips to California, Florida and Las Vegas, $31,000 in cryptocurrency, laser body sculpting, and luxury goods from retailers such as Gucci and Tiffany & Co.

The couple appeared in a federal court on Monday, where the prosecution argued they were a flight risk, having fled to Oklahoma last October after the decaying bodies were found and again before their arrest on state charges in November.

The judge did not decide whether they should be released pending trial, instead scheduling another hearing for Thursday.

Return to Nature Funeral Home, Oct. 5, 2023, in Penrose, Colorado. Pic: Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette/AP
Image:
Return To Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado. Pic: Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette/AP

The discovery of the 190 bodies, some of which had been there since 2019, shocked the state of Colorado, which has some of the US’s weakest funeral home regulations.

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Concerns were raised as far back as 2020 about the business’s improper storage of bodies but regulators did not act, allowing the number of bodies to grow to nearly 200.

It was only after neighbours complained about the smell that authorities looked more closely at the modest 2,500-square foot building in Penrose, about 30 miles south of Colorado Springs.

Since the bodies were discovered, dozens of families have been told the ashes they were given could not have been the remains of loved ones.

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