Friday, June 20, 2008

Lupoli to pay$110,000 overpoor practices

By Victor Zapana
Special to the Register
— A local funeral home has agreed to pay as much as $110,000 after the state found the business had cut too many procedural corners.
Lupoli Brothers Funeral Home recently entered an agreement with the state Department of Consumer Protection to compensate for "misappropriated" funds in "unfair" trade contracts by at least 23 customers, DCP Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr. said in a statement.
But he affirmed Wednesday that the business practices were unfair due to the owner’s lack of required records and not due to the funeral services, which were called satisfactory, nonexistent and everything in between by customers interviewed over the years.
The announcement follows a five-month state investigation to determine whether the funeral home had followed legal procedures for pre-need funeral services contracts. A pre-need funeral service contract is an agreement for funeral services and merchandise purchased before the services are required.
According to state law, a funeral home is required to deposit money paid to the contract into escrow within 15 days of receipt.
Farrell said Lupoli officials had entered into funeral services contracts, but did not deposit funds into the escrow account. Lupoli Brothers dealt primarily with local Italian-American elderly residents applying for Title 19 status, known as Medicaid, he added.
"There was enough smoke here to allow us to open an investigation to find the fire that we did," Farrell said Wednesday. "At this point, we’ve put that fire out."
Since about 2001, when state public health officers performed their routine yearly inspections, owner Eugene Lupoli denied that he engaged in pre-need funeral contracts, an agreement many elderly Title 19 applicants have.
"It’s like McDonald’s saying, ‘Oh, we don’t do hamburgers,’" Farrell said.
Once phone calls came in about complaints against pre-need contracts at Lupoli Brothers, the state Public Health Department handed the investigation over to consumer protection, Farrell said.
But Farrell stressed Wednesday that Lupoli was a poor record-keeper at most, and he had already provided appropriate services for several pre-need contracts.
"Mr. Lupoli has come in here and said, ‘You know, I’m a bad record-keeper,’" he said. "That’s a measure for what went on here. It’s not an excuse — he did have a hard time to come up with the records we needed."
Farrell added that in several cases, Lupoli eventually gave records for escrow accounts that he had used for the pre-need contracts.
Michael J. Ajello, lawyer and representative for Lupoli, did not return a message seeking comment. Lupoli did not return a request for comment left on his home phone.
On behalf of Lupoli and in a DCP statement, Ajello admitted no wrongdoing.
Checked Wednesday, Lupoli Brothers published phone listing no longer works. Lupoli Brothers was slated to close by June 12, said DCP trade practices special investigator Mary Jaglowski, who led the DCP Lupoli Brothers case.
The funeral home has not had an active license since May, said Kathleen Boulware, public health services manager for the state Department of Public Health, who added that a DPH investigation is ongoing.
Lupoli has agreed to deposit about $86,000 in an escrow account for 23 customers who still have open, unsettled pre-need contracts. Farrell said the owner has also set aside $25,000 in case any other pre-need customers call the state about the case.
Lottie Garguilo, 54, said she believes her family would be able to receive some of that $25,000. A third cousin of Lupoli, Garguilo alleged that four years ago, her aunt, Carmel "Babe" Civitello, 89, had signed off an insurance check of about $2,000 to Lupoli to reserve two plots in All Saints Cemetery in North Haven. Civitello never received any services or money back, Garguilo claimed.
"She’s a nervous wreck over this," Garguilo said of Civitello.
Victor Zapana is a Register intern.

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