25 Jan 2019

Former funeral home owners avoid jail over mishandled money

1:38 pm on 25 January 2019

Two former Hutt Valley funeral directors have avoided jail relating to their mishandling of pre-paid funeral money.

Darryl and Melissa Angus appeared in court via video link.

Melissa and Darryl Angus appeared in court via video link. Photo: Supplied / Ana Tovey

Darryl and Melissa Angus were sentenced today in the Wellington District Court on 13 charges, including theft by failing to account.

Their business - Omega Funeral Services and Memorials - received about $63,000 for pre-paid funerals.

However the pair failed to put the money into a trust account where it would be kept until a death certificate was produced, as the law required. And when the business ran into difficulties in 2005, the clients' funds were lost during the liquidation process.

Emotional and financial stress and health difficulties were amongst the harm suffered by people who lost their pre-paid funeral money.

Judge Harrop accepted Melissa Angus had been charged as a party to her former husband's offending.

He sentenced her to 6 months home detention and ordered her to pay $10,000 reparation.

Darryl Angus was also sentenced to 6 months' home detention and will pay $31,000 reparation.

He was also ordered to carry out 100 hours' community work.

Darryl Angus had good intentions about what he wanted to do for the community, but the company failed as a result of the naivety and inexperience of those running it, his lawyer, Kevin Preston said.

"Everything fell apart and there was no coming back and that resulted in a [loss to] individuals .... when losing a close member of the family [at] a troubling time.

"Mr Angus empathises with this and is deeply regretful of the situation and expresses that in his letter."

At an earlier hearing Melissa Angus's lawyer, James Mahuta-Coyle had differentiated his client's actions from a regular theft case, saying she had intended the services provided would be delivered at some stage. But that had changed when the business collapsed.

Judge Stephen Harrop said the losses suffered by those whose loved ones believed they had covered their funeral costs were significant.

"It would have been an attractive feature to those making pre-payments. They knew that whatever the case of the business, the funds would be safe and protected and there'd never be a problem drawing on them.

"So the peace of mind was no doubt a significant factor for them, and without it they may well not have paid over any money.

"But it wasn't paid into a trust account - there was none - and no protection for the funds."

Judge Harrop accepted the Anguses had not used the money for their own benefit or to fund a lavish lifestyle, but said the Victim Impact Statements referred to the problems their actions caused their clients.

"In some cases the quality suffered as a result.

"As one victim says, 'we went to an alternative provider. They gave us a really cheap funeral which mum would have hated...

"without the pre-paid funds, we could not even afford to embalm mum and some of the family who would have travelled to view her and say good-bye couldn't do so'."

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