Funeral Director Pleads Guilty in Giant Scam

ST. LOUIS (CN) – One of six funeral directors accused of scamming people for as much as $600 million in a prearranged funeral scheme has pleaded guilty to federal charges.
     Sharon Nekol Province, 69, of Ballwin, Mo., knew it was a Ponzi scam, not a prearranged funeral plan, prosecutors said.
     Province admitted she knew there was a high probability that she was participating in a fraud, but shut her eyes to it, prosecutors said. She also admitted taking deliberate actions to avoid learning about the scheme, and taking actions to further it.
     National Prearranged Services (NPS) sold prearranged funerals from 1992 to 2008. Customers usually paid a lump sum up-front to NPS directly or through a funeral home that also was a party to the contract. NPS claimed the money would be kept in a secure trust or insurance policy as required by state law.
     But Prosecutors say they didn’t. NPS spent the money on its officers, and new customers paid for funerals that old customers had paid for – a classic Ponzi scheme.
     Province held several executive titles for NPS affiliate Lincoln Memorial Life Insurance Company. Though those titles included president and vice president, she did not have primary decision-making power for Lincoln Memorial. Her roles included notary work, signing authorizations, hiring and firing, writing checks and making wire transfers, prosecutors said.
     Province pleaded guilty to six counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud and misappropriating insurance premiums. She faces up to 3 years in prison at her Nov. 7 sentencing.
     Province’s five co-defendants are scheduled for trial starting Aug. 5.

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