Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

Former Tampa funeral home owners charged with theft, racketeering after keeping funeral contract money, authorities say

TAMPA — Two former funeral home operators face theft and fraud charges for stealing at least $181,000 from customers who signed pre-need funeral contracts with them, authorities said.

Julio Gonzalez-Roel and Lucia Gonzalez-Roel, the previous owners of JGR Funeral Services, Inc., stole from more than 50 pre-need contracts before selling the business in 2014, according to a news release from Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. They were arrested Monday.

After the Tampa couple sold the funeral home at 6718 N Armenia Ave, Julio Gonzalez-Roel was kept on staff by the new owners. Shortly after that, the business closed and the state's Department of Financial Services began receiving complaints from consumers who said their pre-need funeral contracts had not been handled properly. In the contracts, a funeral provider accepts an advance payment for future funeral services.

Instead of placing the money into a pre-need trust account as required by state law, the couple stole the funds, authorities said.

Julio Gonzalez-Roel had previously been arrested on similar charges, so his funeral director and embalmer license was revoked in August 2009. Lucia Gonzalez-Roel amended JGR's records to list herself as the president, secretary and treasurer of JGR Funeral Services in an effort to keep herself and her husband involved in the day-to-day operations of the business.

Florida law requires funeral homes to obtain a separate license to sell pre-need funeral contracts. JGR's license to sell pre-need contracts expired in 2009 and their renewal application was denied, so the company was selling pre-need contracts without the required licensure, officials said.

The couple are charged with racketeering, 18 combined counts of grand theft and 24 charges of violating the state's Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services Practice Act.

Julio Gonzalez-Roel, 54, was being held Thursday in the Orient Road Jail in lieu of $88,000 bail, records show. Lucia Gonzalez-Roel, 55, was released after posting $41,000 bail. If convicted, they face up to 30 years in state prison.

To date, Florida's Consumer Protection Trust Fund has returned $117,000 of the stolen funds to victims, authorities said. The fund is available to consumers who have purchased a pre-need contract and the funeral provider is unable to honor the contract.

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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