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73 baby remains in 3 Detroit funeral homes investigated

U.S. Department of Justice's role in Detroit funeral home investigation could trigger federal nationwide curiosity

The Detroit police department’s telephones jumped off the hook with more complaints after media reports revealed the discovery of human remains in funeral homes that were not being disposed of within 180 days as required by Michigan law.

Detroit police chief James Craig has launched a criminal investigation of how two funeral home operators in the city were storing instead of disposing of dead fetuses.  63 were found at the Perry Funeral Home on Trumbull Road.  Another 11 were found stored in a ceiling at the Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue.  Nether funeral home operator has been charged with improperly storing and disposing of human remains.

Craig in an October 19th news conference said the discovery has triggered interest in a task force that involves state and federal police and prosecutors.  He said the U.S. Department of Justice through the U.S. Attorneys office has concerns about Medicaid fraud involving the two operators and others.  U.S. Attorneys nationally share information with each other about unique investigations in their jurisdictions.

Michigan in 2003 enacted a new state law in response to the discovery of 300 bodies in buildings and woods surrounding a Georgia crematory.  Family members were given urns filled with burned wood chips or cement mix.  Michigan lawmakers thought their 1915 cemetery act with a $100 fine, license revocation and 90 days in jail was inadequate.

Robert Tate, Jr. of Toledo lost his funeral license in Ohio for letting 11 bodies rot in his place and spent a week in jail.

So the state’s lawmakers decided to make it a felony with penalties of up to 10 years and $50,000 in fines for funeral and crematory directors to improperly dispose of human remains within 180 days upon their taking possession of the body. 

The disposal is mandatory as and self-imposing by the use of the word “shall” in the state, said Craig.   Remains disposed of improperly under 180 days is a misdemeanor.  On the 181st day it’s a felony and each day afterwards.

Lawmakers gave the professionals it licensed limited exemptions for the 180 day mandatory disposal deadline.

· Delays due to seasonal factors relating to the method of final disposition of the dead human body.

· Delays due to the availability of services required to complete the final disposition.

· The directives of the person having lawful authority over the final disposition of the body to postpone that disposition pending funeral services, the presence of certain family members, or other activities.

· Delays due to the inability to obtain the necessary authorizations regarding the method of final disposition or due to the inability to locate individuals essential to making a decision regarding the final disposition.

· Delays due to an autopsy, investigation of the cause of death, the gathering of evidence, or other activity or procedure required by a governmental or law enforcement agency.

· Delays pursuant to an order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction upon petition and showing of good cause for a delay in the final disposition.

In Ohio in 2015 Robert Tate of Toledo was discovered to have kept 11 bodies rotting in his funeral  home.  Tate was required to voluntarily give up his license, spend a week in jail, get a job and make $3000 in restitution to two families.  He was also restricted from ever working in the funeral industry and complete 200 hours of community service.  The judge gave him 10 years of community control.  The families also got an apology from  him.

The funeral home founded by Raymond Cantrell at 10400 Mack Road in Detroit is permanently closed from the discovery of human remains that were not disposed.

Craig expressed concern about the number of locations and wants to know why.  Was it medicaid fraud, financial gain, who and who else are involved are among the questions his investigation hopes to uncover.  He said the probe would be “wide.”

He said there were over 700 mortuary providers in the state and the involvement of state and federal police and prosecutors will express the state’s intent to enforce it’s tough disposal of human remains law.

Eric Jonathan Brewer
Author, Investigative Journalist, Speaker, Politician, Consultant

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