The recent indictments against Cheraw native Craig Norton, for alleged fraudulent behavior in offering pre-need funeral services, “is the first case of its kind in South Carolina,” according to Juliana Harris of the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA).
The Chesterfield County Fourth Circuit Solicitor’s office, assisted by investigators for the Cheraw Police Department and the SCDCA, are prosecuting the case.
Last week a Chesterfield grand jury indicted Norton on “106 counts of violating the Preneed Funeral Contracts Law and breach of trust with fraudulent intent,” said Harris.
Norton, 52, is the former owner of Norton Funeral Home on Third Street in Cheraw. In the late summer of 2011 the Cheraw Police Department and the SCDCA began hearing complaints from consumers about Norton’s shortcomings on pre-paid funeral services.
“The complaints concerned funds paid in advance to Norton Funeral Home for preneed burial contracts,” said Harris. “SCDCA’s comprehensive investigation into Norton’s dealings revealed that he sold preneed funeral contracts without a license and failed to put funds in a trust account.”
“It’s been heart wrenching to work on this case,” said Cheraw Police Chief Jay Brooks, especially when you know the families are already grieving.
Norton, who now lives in Charleston, complied with a request from the Cheraw Police Department to appear before Judge J.A. Graves on Nov. 5. He was subsequently released on a $100,000 bond. At that time, Brooks said, the charges against Norton include “cashing life insurance policies and not returning the appropriate amount, after funeral expenses, to the beneficiaries; head stones or urns that where paid for and never received.”
Laws against such frauds have been on the books since the 1960s, but just this year, stiffer penalties have been introduced; as well as a plan to help consumers with their financial losses. The SCDCA has created a Preneed Loss Reimbursement Fund, to reimburse family members. “To date,” said Harris, four reimbursement requests relating to losses incurred through Norton have been granted “totaling nearly $10,000.”
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.