NEW PORT RICHEY - Former New Port Richey funeral home director George Billingsley Morgan III was arrested Friday and accused of using money intended for customers' future funeral needs to run his business.
Morgan, 44, 5263 Miller Bayou Drive, Port Richey, was arrested just before 4 p.m. Friday at River Ridge High School, according to the Pasco Sheriff Office. He was charged with five counts of grand theft.
Between 2005 and 2009, according to an affidavit, Morgan, who was the funeral home director of Morgan Funeral Home, 6025 Trouble Creek Road in New Port Richey, collected money from at least five "pre-need" contracts. By state law, the money was supposed to be placed in a designated trust known as the Independent Funeral Director of Florida's Trust. Instead, the money was used for the funeral home, the affidavit said.
Morgan did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
John Rudolph Jr., who represented Morgan during a hearing in October, said that money since has been placed in a trust.
"He didn't put the money in the trust; he used (it) to keep the funeral home open," Rudolph Jr. said. "If those people are pre-need contract holders, their funds have all (since) been put into the trust, 100 percent of the funds."
Pre-need funeral contracts are a means to prepay for funeral services. The money goes into an account and accumulates interest. When a person dies, the money from that account is used for funeral arrangements.
The affidavit listed five counts against Morgan from two contracts for Rita Haffner (June 20, 2008), as well as one for John Gillies (June 18, 2008), Gerald McKomiskey (Jan. 19, 2009) and Gerard McKomiskey (Jan. 19, 2009).
The Florida Department of Financial Services began investigating the case in 2009 when Merl Faupel, owner of Faupel Funeral Home, bought the business in March 2009.
Faupel declined to comment when reached by phone.
"The State Attorney's Office has apparently made a determination that a theft occurred by Mr. Morgan a number of years ago," Steve Booth, Faupel's attorney, said. "And they are apparently proceeding with these charges."
Booth confirmed the investigation was due to Faupel's concerns that the money intended for the trusts was not there.
Morgan Funeral Home since has been sold to Chris Kaduk. He began working at the funeral home in 2009 and bought it in 2011.
"He had no involvement at all," Booth said of Kaduk.
Mary Surles, an attorney for the state financial agency, told investigators Morgan acknowledged not placing the money he received into the appropriate trust and was using it to keep his business afloat.
During an Oct. 4, 2012, hearing in which Morgan was ordered to pay $33,711 in restitution, Morgan spoke to members of the Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services board.
"It was a combination of poor record-keeping and basically trying to keep the doors open," Morgan told the board, according to filings from the state financial agency. "We were in a bad financial situation. It was not a matter where the monies went into someone's pockets."
Morgan's funeral director and embalmer license was suspended for three years. During that time, he cannot act as a funeral director of any licensed establishment. He also was fined $1,250 in administrative fees.
During that hearing, Morgan told board members his house had been foreclosed, cars were repossessed and he was, at that time, living with his mother. He was released from the Land O' Lakes Jail on Saturday after posting $25,000 bail.