WARREN - A judge has ordered written arguments from attorneys by the end of the week before he decides whether to issue a stay in the permanent revocation of state licenses held by Niles funeral director Robert P. McDermott.
McDermott, who was sanctioned by the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, seeks to continue operating out of his Warren Avenue business while he fights the action taken by the state governing board.
The board informed McDermott of the action centering on mishandling of money from pre-need, or pre-paid, funeral service contracts last month. He quickly filed an administrative appeal in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
The case was assigned to Judge Peter Kontos, who heard evidence in the case Friday in a brief hearing on the stay.
McDermott told Kontos from the witness stand that it could be devastating to his family and hurt families in the Niles area in search of funeral services if he isn't granted the stay while fighting the sanctions.
The board of embalmers and funeral directors say violations against McDermott ''involve well over 50 individuals and over $150,000 that Mr. McDermott, in essence, unlawfully converted to his own use,'' according to pleadings in the case.
McDermott has been licensed as a funeral director since 1985, and his funeral home has been licensed in the state since 1998. Until October 2012, McDermott was the funeral director actually in charge of the business. On Oct. 15, 2012, Thomas Kinnick, a licensed funeral director, became the funeral director in charge of the business, at McDermott's request, the board says.
The board also hit McDermott with an unprofessional conduct violation for being late to funeral services for Christopher Steffey in May 2011. An investigator's report also cited miscommunication with the family regarding payment of an urn and failing to provide a statement of goods and services and a delay in monument placement.
Described as much more serious violations by the board are ''numerous pre-need funeral contracts sold by McDermott for which he simply placed the money into the funeral home's operating account and never properly trusted the money.''
''McDermott acknowledged his guilt to these violations at hearing. He attributed his wrongdoing to poor management and oversight of the funeral home's business operations. Instead, he testified, he was exclusively focused on providing service to his clients and not on the business aspects of the funeral home,'' according to a report by the hearing examiner.
McDermott, who was indefinitely suspended a year ago, told the hearing officer in May he has relinquished control of the business to Kinnick and would never assume the role of a funeral director and never again write pre-need funeral contracts.
''Regardless of Mr. McDermott's good intentions at this point, the fact remains that he has, in essence, stolen over $150,000 from numerous consumers and placed the funeral services of these individuals in clear jeopardy,'' the hearing examiner wrote.
The report cited a $7,400 pre-need funeral contract with the parents of Connie Pykare in July or September 2011. The money was placed in the funeral home's operating account instead of lawfully forwarding the money to an appropriate institution or insurance company. McDermott repaid Pykare in full by April 2013.
In early 2013, he also repaid Dorothy Holan $5,400 plus interest for a similar contract that should have been trusted with the Homesteaders Life Insurance Co. Holan is now deceased, and her funeral arrangements were not handled by McDermott.
In one instance, McDermott sent a funeral home check to National Guardian Life Insurance Co. to fund a $1,582 contract, and the check was returned for insufficient funds.
In February, McDermott gave the board a list of 58 names of people he contracted with for pre-need funerals and remained unfunded. The first five names were the subject of an earlier disciplinary action. Another three were removed since there was either no contract or the funeral was fully funded.
But McDermott testified that one person omitted from the list and who had an unfunded pre-need contract was Pastor Charles W. Stevens.