(KMOV.com) -- A ring of funeral service employees are accused of preying on trusting customers to build and support stolen, lavish lifestyles.
Employees of National Prearranged Services, Inc. are accused of stealing as much as $600 million from customers in a scheme affecting anyone who pays taxes. The company occupied the third floor of a building in Clayton until 2008 when the Ponzi-style scheme came to light.
According to U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan, six people who worked for the funeral service including Sharon Province, a 69-year-old Ballwin woman, were participants in a scam that had been going on for 16 years.
“It was being used for what everybody used money for when they have a lot of it,” Callahan said. “Cars, yachts, fancy homes and fancy living.”
According to court documents, customers entering into prearranged funeral contracts paid a single sum of money in the beginning.
“So you paid that up front, the company promised you they’d keep that money in a trust so when you needed funeral expenses the money would be there,” said Callahan.
However, when that time came, the money was gone. Callahan says this affected much more than just the funeral homes involved.
“If the funeral homes are putting on funerals they’re not getting paid for, ultimately the consumer will finance it,” he said.
The five other defendants are expected to go to trial in August