Members of a state board that oversees funeral directors in West Virginia say they don’t agree with how previous board members handled the case of a Putnam County man who cashed in prearranged funeral plans for people who hadn’t died. But the new board members say they can’t do anything about it.
The West Virginia Board of Funeral Examiners met on July 18 to discuss the impact of the almost 2-year-old criminal conviction of Chad Harding, former owner and president of The Harding Family Group, in Putnam Circuit Court, according to a statement released Friday.
Board members said they disagree with the order that suspended Harding’s license for six months and gave him six months of probation. They didn’t say what they would have done instead, but said they legally cannot, and therefore do not plan to, take further disciplinary action in Harding’s case.
“The current membership of the Board takes this opportunity to memorialize its disagreement with terms of the ‘Consent Agreement and Order’ entered by the previous membership of the Board,” members state in the letter. “However, the current Board understands that, after meeting with counsel, it is legally bound by the ‘Consent Agreement and Order’ and can take no further disciplinary actions against Mr. Harding based upon his convictions as they stem from the same conduct alleged, and resolved in the [order].”
The letter is signed by all seven members of the board: Eugene Fahey, vice president and general manager of Altmeyer Funeral Homes & Crematory in Wheeling; Robert C. Fields, president and director of Brown Funeral Home Inc. in Martinsburg; E. Bryan Nichols of Tyler Mountain Funeral Home & Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens in Cross Lanes; Ronald D. Waybright, owner of Waybright Funeral Home in Ripley; Frederick H. Kitchen, president and funeral director of Henson & Kitchen Funeral Home in Milton; and Richard Bishoff, funeral director of Snodgrass Funeral Home in South Charleston.
“The Board is firmly committed to regaining the trust of the public and stands ready to fully fulfill its obligation to enforce the West Virginia Funeral Service Examiners Act in the future,” board members said in the letter.
The current board members noted that none of them was on the board when the Harding consent agreement and order were reached in July 2017.
The same month the consent agreement and order were entered onto the board’s record in 2017, three members of the Board of Funeral Examiners resigned, citing their displeasure with the agreement.
The agreement was entered as a part of the board’s case regarding Harding’s handling of pre-need funeral contracts.
Harding pleaded guilty to three counts of felony insurance fraud in November 2017, and Putnam Circuit Judge Joseph K. Reeder sentenced him to spend up to 30 years in prison and pay $30,000 in fines and court costs.
The Gazette-Mail on July 3, 2019, sent an inquiry to the Department of Health and Human Resources seeking information about a review the state public health officials launched in August 2017. That review was launched after the Board of Funeral Examiners entered into the “consent and agreement order” with Harding in July 2017.
Correction: This story has been updated to describe Rich Bishoff's position as funeral director at Snodgrass Funeral Home. A previous version of the story erroneously reported Bishoff was a manager and funeral director at another funeral home.