The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service has taken disciplinary action against a Scotland County funeral director for allegedly embezzling from a burial association over the last five years.
Morris Funeral Home, with services in Red Springs and Laurinburg, could lose its permit to operate for three years. The state board has said that it would also revoke the funeral directing license of Ella Morris if a portion of the money is not repaid.
The report said that investigators found a cash shortage of $2,631.76 from Grace Mutual Burial Association, of which Ella Morris is secretary-treasurer. There were subsequent shortages of $6,859.22 in 2010; $7,006.42 in 2011; and $6,838.32 in 2012, according to the report.
“Respondent Morris, as secretary-treasurer, embezzled, or fraudulently converted, or knowingly and willingly converted to an unauthorized use, part or all of the cash shortages found during the 2008-2012 examinations and 2010 Annual Report,” the report said.
Morris denied the accusations, but declined to talk about the charges. She said that she plans to appeal. Under state statute, the business can continue to operate until the courts rule on the appeal.
Morris could lose her funeral directing license for up to three years. To keep it, the state board would require her to pay back more than $6,800 and take continuing education classes.
State board also plans to dissolve the burial association, which is considered a separate entity from Morris Funeral Home, though it is managed by Morris, according to Peter Burke, executive director of the state Board of Funeral Service.
“There are not that many of them left anymore - probably 70 exist statewide,” Burke said. “Decades ago, people would join a membership and folks would go to a funeral home and join a burial association and make payments quarterly or monthly. What that would entitle them to is that they would get a $200 burial benefit at the time of their death.”
All money paid by members of the burial association are required to be kept separate from the funeral home.
“When the individual dies, then the funeral home and the association notify the bank and the funds are contributed back to the funeral home as part of the payment on the funeral expenses,” said Burke.
According to the funeral home’s website, the funeral home service was started in 1935 by Coppin Harold Morris Sr. Ella Morris took over the family business in 1984.