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Category Archives: Bureau of Funeral Directing

Politics, Power, Patronage and Conflicts of Interest: The Albany County Coroners Office

From its Very Beginnings, the Office of the Coroner was Tainted by Politics, Greed and Corruption.

The office of the coroner has existed for about 800 years and began in England, in the 1300s when the office of the “crowner” was created to investigate suspected felony deaths. Then, as now, there was government interest in such deaths and it wasn’t justice or public health. You see, the coroner, if he found that the death was due to a felony, would then investigate and confiscate the felon’s property, which went to the crown. Of course the coroner would get a cut of the goods, too. So, from its very beginnings, the office of the coroner was tainted by politics, greed and corruption. Add to this toxic mix the Democrat political machine in Albany, and it can’t get much worse.


Three out of the four incumbent coroners are Guess what? funeral directors actively practicing in the Albany County region. Charles Smoot, the de rigueur token African American at the Albany County Coroner’s office, and one coroner the others would like to get rid of for a number of reasons, John Keegan, and Paul Marra are funeral directors and work as coroners. There’s a conflict of interest here because the coroner has to call a funeral director or funeral home to take custody of the body after the investigation. If you were in the business, who would you call?

Timothy Cavenaugh owes his claim to the coroner’s office to his political connections and to the fact that his father, James Cavenaugh, was Albany County Coroner before him. It appears that the Albany County coroner is not only political, it’s hereditary.

You’ve all seen the Newcomer Cryptkeeper ads on TV.

It does get worse, though, and here’s how: One of the contenders for the elected position is Frank Simmons, another funeral director, who — according to the recent Albany Times Union report —  works for Guess who? Newcomer Funerals and Cremations in Albany. Yes, that’s the same nickel-and-diming, factory funeral provider that’s part of the Newcomer Funeral Services Group, the funeral home chain that operates in some 10 states. Newcomer just opened a new location in Latham and it seems they need more bodies so why not run for coroner? Does anyone see the plan, the agenda, the potential for corruption and conflicts of interest in this coroner system as it operates in Albany County? (The Holubs dumpster-diving moghuls of the Ghettochopper, that is, Pricechopper fame have bought a share of Albany government; now it’s Newcomer Funerals and Cremations who what their share of the local action?)


Editor’s Note:

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read our articles on Newcomer Funerals and Cremations, Service Corporation International (a.k.a. Dignity Memorial), and StoneMor, please see our articles at:


In a 2010 article published in the Times Union  (Coroner saw much in his decades on job, Times Union, November 24, 2010) reported on an Albany County Coroner, Bill Loetterle (now deceased, see his obituary), in which Loetterle describes some of his experiences, and provides some insights into the operations of the coroner’s position in Albany County. He describes how in one case he was ready to call a murder, the police stepped in and overruled him calling it a suicide. Sends up red flags already. He describes serious mistakes being made in the coroner’s office like getting names wrong for the bodies in their custody. In that article, Dr Jeffrey Hubbard, a pathologist working with the Albany County Coroners Office is quoted as saying “the coroners office doesn’t have the answers and doesn’t know when they are going to come about. They are waiting for the pathologist, or pathology lab or for the police.” Makes you wonder why there’s a coroners office in the first place.

Then why have the extra level, the coroners, if they don’t have the answers and have to rely on the pathologist or the police? The County of Albany is already paying the pathologists and the police are already on the payroll. Sounds political and corrupt to us.

You might go back to Loetterle’s tale about the homicide called suicide by the police, overruling the opinion of the coroner. Do you really think that isn’t possible given the fact that the politics in Albany County run law enforcement and the coroners office? Better think again!

Former Albany County Coroner William Loetterle was a Purchasing Agent at GE

So, Loetterle (A Democrat, of course!) came on board as an appointed part-time coroner in 1979 and stayed on the job until 2010, 30 years! Loetterle worked for GE as a purchasing agent. That’s the qualification of the guy who’s going to determine the circumstances of a suspicious or unattended death, whether on the street or in the hospital, and sign the death certificate. It’s no wonder that death statistics are so screwed up!

In the TU 2010 article, though, Mr Loetterle, if you don’t believe he was part of the machine, totally unqualified and just outright ignorant, we read that in his “educated” opinion, “having coroners is better than having medical examiners because it’s much less costly for the taxpayers.” We’ve done a thorough study of the coroner and ME system and we know that that statement is categorically untrue and incorrect, as we’ll point out below.

Albany County Coroners are so good that they actually sent a woman who was still alive to the morgue!

The coroner is poorly trained and doesn’t have the necessary education to do the job

Furthermore, the office of coroner is for all practical purposes antiquated and obsolete. Moreover, it’s more costly to taxpayers because it actually duplicates effort and costs, and is actually detrimental to the public health efforts and programs at state and federal level because the coroner is poorly trained and doesn’t have the necessary education to do the job. That and the fact that it’s an elected position and only those candidates that get local political party approval get on the ballot.


Incompetence goes viral….

In a New York Times article, the writer refers to the coroners office as a “relic.” The article goes on to describe how an elderly woman was found in her apartment in an Albany complex for the elderly:

The old woman was sprawled on her living room floor, cold and motionless, and the apartment manager who found her on Wednesday was sure she was gone. Paramedics and the Albany County Coroner… found no heartbeat, no pulse, no breath or other signs of life, and the [Albany] coroner declared her officially dead.

They zipped Mildred C. Clarke, 86, into a body bag, took her to the morgue at the Albany Medical Center Hospital and left her in a room where corpses are kept at 40 degrees, pending autopsies or funerals. About 90 minutes later, the chief morgue attendant went in to transfer her to a funeral home.  (NYTimes

Albany paramedics and an Albany County coroner declare the woman dead, transfer her to Albany Medical Center, and no one there has any interest in confirming she’s dead or alive, and she gets put into a refrigerator where she stays until a morgue attendant notices the body bag moving. Something out of a horror flick? Hell, NO! It’s Albany County and Albany Medical Center at work!

Lucky she wasn’t an organ donor! But according to a NYT follow-up report Mrs Clark later died a week later at Albany Medical Center of ‘undisclosed causes,’ according to an Albany Medical Center spokesperson. (NYTimes)

William X Kienzle even includes the incident in his book, Requiem for Moses  (Kienzle, William X. Requiem for Moses. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Pub, 2013). That’s how Albany County gets on the map, we suppose.


So that brings us to another Times Union article published just recently, on May 23, 2017, entitled “Albany coroners race could have Democratic Primary. Democratic nominees face 4 others in Albany County” The reporter writes, “following a long, often contentious and disorganized Albany County Democratic Committee meeting…two incumbent coroners secured the Democratic nomination” for the coroner posts up for re-election. Four others were also endorsed by the Democrats. Can it get any more political?

Of course, the Albany County Democratic Committee chairman, Jack Flynn, would not comment on the strong interest in the coroner post but we will.

Albany County: No politics. No power. No patronage. No way!

A couple of years ago, Albany County considered changing over to the medical examiner system where a licensed and specially trained physician would do the death investigations (“Charter panel weighs coroner’s role,” Times Union, April 29, 2013). That article describes the Albany County Charter Committee as “11-member panel will tread lightly around the perception that it’s bent on curtailing anyone’s power.” Power. Not the public’s interests or welfare but power. The article is otherwise uninformative beyond confirming the corruption of the Albany Democratic machine and the infighting.

Somehow Albany has managed to misinform and keep the electorate ignorant and County Executive McCoy, Democratic Committee chairman Flynn, Majority Leader Frank Commisso (majority leader since 1993!), and certainly not the coroners or their highly-paid local pathologists or Albany Medical Center, whose facilities the Albany County Coroners Office uses for storing bodies and for forensic examinations. They all have an interest in keeping the obsolete and antiquated Albany County Coroners Office in place despite good evidence that it should be dumped and replaced by a medical examiner system. But no politics, no power, no patronage? No way!

This wouldn’t be a political position and would be governed by the professional ethics and oversight agencies that watchdog physician’s activities. But that wouldn’t be something the Albany Democrats would be interested in, would it? No politics. No power. No patrons. No way!

We should mention here that both Schenectady and Rensselaer Counties, as well as the majority of the rest of the country, especially those more advanced locales, have opted for the medical examiner system over and against the coroner system. There are many good reasons for this and we’ll be discussing them in future parts of this series of articles. The unfounded opinion of some supporters of the Albany County Coroners Office that the coroner system is less expensive to tax payers are misinformed and make no sense. The coroner system is in most studies of the system found to be incompetent, inefficient, expensive, and detrimental to the public’s health. Too many unqualified or politically ambitious people tend to seek these offices and should take their egos on a vacation. Coroners, at least the Albany County Coroners, have another agenda, as we’ll point out below.

But in the old days, local docs could be found who would sell their signature for a Tootsie Roll., and we have evidence of one physician, now deceased, who assisted the Office of the Albany County Coroner by signing death certificates for a fee-per-signature; he was actually selling his signature for a fee, and didn’t give a damn what was on the DC. His cause of death was always ASD, heart disease! If you examine the death certificates he signed you’ll find he certified almost every single death inappropriately using an abbreviation (more on this later), ASD, “arteriosclerotic disease”, making the false impression that almost every death investigated by the Office of the Coroner was due to heart disease. Think of what that could mean to national statistics on death due to heart disease if such corruption is widespread! It is. And published studies prove that fact. Scientific, peer-reviewed studies show that heart disease as a cause of death was a highly reported fake cause of death. It was over-reported by ignorant people completing death certificates with no qualifications, or who didn’t really care what the cause of death was, so cardiac death was an easy way out.  Frequently still is.

Studies also show that coroners and many physicians do not know how to properly complete a death certificate. And many physicians don’t know when they are legally authorized to sign a death certificate, frequently giving an incorrect cause of death. If physicians can make those blunders think of the damage an untrained, poorly educated coroner like Bill Loetterle, Charles Smoot and others like them can do!

The On-call coroner Frequently Doesn’t Even Go to the Scene but Completes and Signs a Death Certificate

If it works for one, it’ll work for many. This scandalous practice continues to be the case. We have received information from the Albany County Coroner’s office that when a call reporting a death is made to the Office of the Albany County Coroner, the coroner goes directly to the scene of the death, investigates, makes his report, and, depending on his findings, completes the death certificate and signs it. That’s what the coroner’s office tells us.  What we have learned from some professionals who work with the Albany County Coroner’s Office is that the on-call coroner frequently doesn’t even go to the scene but completes and signs a death certificate. Incredible? Maybe, but really quite likely knowing how Albany County operates.

Now let’s have a closer look at Albany County before we proceed with a more detailed discussion of what MEs and coroners are required to do and how it affects us as individuals, and as a state and nation. Albany has been a Democrat party stronghold literally for generations, and the Party has a stranglehold on public office. Most of the institutions in the City of Albany and Albany County are controlled by the local Democrats who have established a powerful system of patronage: If you’re not a Democrat and a log-roller, or you don’t know someone in City Hall, you simply don’t get a job or you don’t get elected. It’s a simple but corrupt system to say the least. Qualifications or credentials may play a role but it’s really who you know, not what you know. So it’s no big surprise to note that all of the Albany County Coroners, all elected officials, are all Democrats.

You may also find it interesting to know that two of the four coroners are licensed funeral directors running local funeral homes, Paul Marra of Marra Funeral Home (Cohoes), and John Keegan of Magin & Keegan Funeral Home (Albany). One of the coroners, Charles Smoot, claims to be a licensed funeral director, and if he is he must be doing behind the scenes work – so-called “trade” work — for other funeral homes; no one seems to know where he works but the Albany County Coroner’s office confirms that he is a licensed funeral director. Informants in the funeral services business in Albany tell us they never see him at any continuing education events, a requirement for funeral directors and for coroners. So Smoot, as we have mentioned, may be just a fixture in the Coroners Office, the token, but even so, he’s not popular in the Albany County Coroners Office. They’ve been trying to get rid of him for some time now, we hear. We also have information that alleged funeral director-coroner Charles Smoot has close connections with Anthony Perniciaro of the McLoughlin & Mason Funeral Home (Troy) so guess who’s likely to get Smoot’s bodies.

How Public Office is Inherited in Albany County

The fourth Albany County coroner is Timothy Cavanaugh is a good example of how positions in the Albany Democrat machine get handed out, or in Cavanaugh’s case, handed down. Timothy is the son of a former, now dead, Albany County coroner, James Cavanaugh. The Cavanaugh dynasty is an example of how public office is inherited in Albany County. The same is true of one other coroner, Paul Marra, son of former coroner John Marra, also of Marra funeral Home in Cohoes. See the patterns? We’d also like to note that Paul Marra and John Keegan are not listed as owners on their respective funeral home web pages. We find that rather questionable, since we feel that those web pages should list the owners’ names or at least let the visitor know who is running the show. Or is does this have more sinister implications related to the owner’s holding a public elected office and possible conflicts of interest. You know, of course, that the coroners have to contact a licensed funeral home to transfer and take custody of the body once the investigation is completed.

Magin & Keegan Funeral Home, Cohoes

So we found it a bit suspicious when we asked about funeral homes used by the coroners, the Albany County Coroner’s Office could provide no information on which funeral homes the coroner’s tend to use for transferring the deceased. Three coroners who are funeral directors, two of whom own funeral homes, and one of which claims to be a licensed funeral director with close connections with a Troy funeral home. Now there couldn’t be any conflict or interest or abuse of public office here, could there? Not in Albany County?

And it does get even worse…

John Keegan not only co-owns and operates Capital District Affordable Cremations LLC in Albany, New York, Anthony Pernicaro of McLoughlan and Mason Funeral Home, Troy, is also one of the co-owners. That’s the same Anthony Pernicaro and the same McLoughlan and Mason Funeral Home we connected with Albany County Coroner Charles Smoot! Insider information received from local funeral home operators indicates that the three Albany County Coroner/Funeral Directors are abusing their positions to steer business to their own funeral homes and their other businesses.

Given the importance of ethics and integrity in public office and the adverse effect on health statistics information collected by death investigators like coroners, you’d think recordkeeping would be a high-priority item on the list of coroner administrative requirements; after all, it’s the office that is required to collect information and report it on such a serious occurrence such as a death. Well, recordkeeping is not really a very high priority in the Albany County Office of Coroners.

Here are just a couple of deficiencies we found in our investigation:

First of all, we place great value on documentation and fact-finding. This requires a system and it also requires a knowledge of how information and data collection affect other departments, programs and even government agencies. Apparently, the Albany County Coroners Office got left in the 1300s, while other locales changed over to the medical examiner system or at least developed data collection forms that reflect the importance of the death investigation data collected during the coroner call.

If anything clearly demonstrates the substandard workings of the Albany County Coroners Office, it’s the form used for documenting the death investigation. Here’s an Albany County Coroners Call Sheet used to document the facts of the scene investigation. Compare it to this one from Indiana (+coroners general death investigation protocol_indiana)or even this simplified one from Cleveland (+Coroner-Call Sheet (Cleveland Ohio)). But our investigation found even more substandard practices in the Albany County Coroners Office. Here are just a few:

  • No up-to-date or upgraded software for entering and administering information collected by coroners (A key employee of the Albany coroners’ office tells us that the software they are using dates back to the 1980’s and has not been updated; the office can’t do queries or generate reports from the software. What’s up with this, Albany County?) (Per information received from the Coroners Office, “The computer system used by The Albany County Coroner’s Office is an internal spread sheet that has been created for our use. All records are also kept as paper copy within the Albany County Hall of Records.”)
  • No way to determine which coroner had which case and when (Wouldn’t that be of interest when you consider almost 1000 coroner calls in 2015 and more than 900 coroner calls in 2016?)
  • No way to report cases that were closed without autopsy and those that went to autopsy
  • No way to determine which coroner used which funeral home to transfer the body Now that’s convenient, isn’t it, considering that three of the coroners are funeral directors, two of whom own funeral homes, and one of whom allegedly has a close connection with a Troy funeral home?)
  • An unacceptable delay in getting autopsy reports: up to 90 days! When cases go to autopsy, there is a significant delay in getting the autopsy reports from the medicolegal/forensic pathologist (the Albany coroners office has four pathologists on call Drs Hubbard, Sikirica, Balasubramaniam (“Dr Bala”), and a Dr Ing, and one physician assisting the coroners, a Dr John Len). So why the delay in the autopsy reports and the consequent delay in closing the case?
  • Apparently there is no way for the coroners office to report which cases are pending closure and which are closed.
  • Cases are not tabulated by coroner; they are tabulated only as a total The Albany County Office of Coroners is unable to list dates of coroner’s calls with a corresponding coroner’s name, location, funeral home, or case closing date. We find this to be gross dereliction of responsibilities!
  • The Albany County Office of Coroners does not keep a list of funeral homes used by the coroners. We don’t wonder Why? Do you?
  • Contrary to personal informal reports we have received, and which resulted in our interest in this topic, the Albany County Office of Coroners tells us that they have received no complaints regarding the performance of their coroners. (Per the Coroner’s Office, “As stated above any complaints against The Albany County Coroners would go through The Albany County Board of Legislators. In checking with them on this matter, no complaints have been filed against this office.” Do you wonder?)

Although the coroners have no medical training, and can be elected from any status in the general public, as long as they can get on the ballot. According to statute coroners must participate in a minimal death investigation course. The Albany County Office of Coroners reports that “all” county coroners receive annual training through the

  • New York State Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners (NYSACME)
  • The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigation
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and
  • Funeral Director CEU (continuing education units).

We note that the Albany County Office of Coroners response clearly reads “[a]ll of our coroners receive yearly training through those organizations. Does “all” mean all as in every, each? If it does we have some questions. One of those questions arise because we have personal communications from funeral professionals who state that they don’t see Charles Smoot at any of the funeral director continuing education events (CEU). Where is he getting his continuing training? Who’s paying for it? The answer to the first question is: Nobody knows. The answer to the second question is: We are.

Given the inadequate documentation, and without some documentation of a coroner’s whereabouts at a particular time a coroner’s case is called in and a death investigation is supposedly being done it will be very difficult if not impossible, to defend against any claims that the coroners are not attending at the death scene but are signing death certificates without due and diligent investigation. This is a serious issue and must be responded to and dealt with. We now publicly submit this question to the Albany County Office of Coroners and demand a response.

Here’s what the Albany County Budget for 2017 lists for the Albany County Coroners Office:

 Albany County Coroners Office Personnel Count

2015 2016 2017
A 1185 Personnel Count 6 6 6
A1185 Coroner $725,824 $733,039 $733,239
2014 2015 2016
A 1185 Personnel Count 6 6 6
A1185 Coroner $693,504 $727,294 $728,729

So the budget figures don’t lie but they also don’t tell the whole story. So we filed several demands for production of documents and information under the New York State Public Officers Law or the Freedom of Information Law. All criticisms aside, we have to give credit where credit is due: The clerk / administrator and confidential secretary at the Albany County Coroners Office have been very helpful and forthcoming, and we hope honest — in providing information in response to our demands. Unfortunately, much of what they provided does not speak in favor of the coroners office:

Albany Medical Center Propaganda

In 2015, Albany Medical Center performed all of 222 autopsies for the Albany County coroners. In 2016 , Albany Medical Center again performed a majority of our 230 autopsies for Albany County. Ellis Hospital began a contract with Albany County at this time but, according to the Coroners Office “a breakdown of these numbers is not possible with out going through each case by hand.” This is the 21st century, people! Everyone has computer software for keeping these sorts of records! Why doesn’t Albany County?

Albany County does not bill for out-of-county residence. If a person dies within Albany County, Albany County picks up the cost of Coroner involvement, pursuant to New York State Law. According to a Times Union report these costs totaled nearly $113,000 from January 2012 to August 2013 (“The dead’s tab: $61,426. When a patient flown to Albany Med dies, Albany County pays for the autopsy.” Times Union, November 25, 2014). During that same period the $61,426 for 56 outside cases in 2012 accounted for about 10 percent of the coroner’s overall $603,000 2013 budget. .But they can and should bill the cost back to the county of residence.

As mentioned above, the Albany County Coroners Office uses outside pathologists: Jeffrey Hubbard MD, Michael Sikirica MD, and Nadarajah Balasubramaniam MD a.k.a. Dr Bala. We demanded information regarding the costs of pathologist services and the Coroners Office provided these figures:

Pathology rates per patient:
Autopsy 770.00
Certification of Death 75.00
Review of records/exam/Certification 360.00

 

Amounts Paid to Pathologists
Per year
2015
Dr. Hubbard $46,980.00
Forensic Medical Services
Drs Sikirica and Balasubramaniam
$138,075.00
2016
Dr. Hubbard $68,125.00
Forensic Medical Services
Drs Sikirica and Balasubramaniam
$146,725.00

Albany Medical Center Autopsy Room

In addition to the three pathologists, John Len MD is a so-called physician assisting the coroners. Len was paid $3,350.00 in 2015, and $11,285.00 in 2016 for “assisting” Albany County coroners. Len, in other words, sells his signature to certify deaths when there is no personal physician.

Albany Medical Center has been the Albany County Coroners Office’s primary autopsy and lab and facility for the years 2015 and 2016. Ellis Hospital (Schenectady) began a contract with Albany County at the end of 2016, it is on a trial basis continuing through 2017.

Amount Paid to Albany Medical Center (Autopsy Services)
2015
Albany Medical Center $198,890.94
2016
Albany Medical Center $189,532.98
Ellis Hospital $6,550.00

Additional Laboratory Testing Services: In 2015 and 2016 National Medical and Bender Laboratories were used for additional toxicology services.

2016
National Medical $7,242.00
Bender Laboratories $27,500.00
2015
National Medical $13,881.66
Bender Laboratories $1770.00

We have demanded this same information from the Schenectady and Rensselaer Medical Examiner Offices and from the Greene County Office of the Coroner. As of this writing, their responses are still outstanding. Once we receive that information, we will publish a comparison of the systems.

Literally thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of deaths in Albany County are in a limbo land thanks to the decrepit and irresponsible administration of coroner records in the Albany County Coroners Office

Whereas the New York State Department of Health (NYDOH) has implemented an Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) in a number of counties in New York State,  implementation of the system in 2017 does not alter the fact that substandard recordkeeping in the Albany County Coroners Office has prevented any attempt at quality control or even retrieval of important data for administrative, study or research purposes. This means that information on literally thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of deaths in Albany County are in a limbo land thanks to the decrepit and irresponsible administration of coroner records in the Albany County Coroners Office.

It’s too little too late for many and we really have to ask the burning question, “Who dropped the ball for so many years?”

It’s the 21st century and it was a long time in finally coming but is still not fully implemented throughout the state, New York State’s Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) in a secure web-based system for electronically registering deaths. EDRS simplifies the data collection process and enhances communication between health care providers and medical certifiers, medical examiners/coroners, funeral directors, and local registrars as they work together to register deaths. That having been said, it’s too little too late for many and we really have to ask the burning question, “Who dropped the ball for so many years?”

For now, though, Albany County Residents and our readers far and wide can draw their own conclusions about Albany County and it’s questionable rationale in keeping the obsolete, inefficient, and antiquated Albany County Coroners Office, apart from the obvious corrupt and self-serving political, power, patronage and economic interests involved.

We’d like to invite you to share your experiences of the coroner and medical examiner system with us. We’ll share them with our readers to enable them to be better informed and to improve their public health systems.

It’s time to do a forensic autopsy on Albany County and the Albany County Coroners Office!

 

Time to Autopsy the
Albany County Coroners Office

The Editor


Editor’s Note

The Albany Times Union reported that Mr Frank Simmons, one of the controversial candidates for Albany County Coroner, is an employee of Newcomer Funerals and Cremations: “Simmons, a funeral home director at New Comer Funerals and Cremations, intend[s] to petition to be on the ballot for the Democratic primary in September.” We have received information from a reliable source and in the funeral service business that Simmons is not employed by Newcomer but by the John J. Sandvidge Funeral Home, Troy. We are looking into this information and have notified Ms Amanda Fries, author of the Times Union article.


 

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Abuse of Public Office, Albany, Albany County Coroner, Albany County Coroners Office, Albany County District Attorney, Albany County Elections, Albany County Executive, Albany County Executive, Albany County Legislature, Albany County Sheriff Department, Albany County Supervisor, Albany Police, Anthony Perniciaro, Arthur Fitch, Bill Loetterle, Bring out your dead, Bureau of Funeral Directing, Capital District, Charles Smoot, Conflict of Interest, Corruption, County Legislator, Craig D. Apple Sr., Dan McCoy, Daniel McCoy, David Soares, Death, Death Certificate, Death Investigation, Democratic Party Committee, Dignity Memorial, EDRS, Elected Official, Electronic Death Registration System, Favoritism, Frank Commisso, Frank Simmons, Freedom of Information Law, Greene County, Greene County Coroner, Greene County District Attorney, Greene County Sheriff, Hudson Valley, Jack Flynn, James Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Hubbard, John Keegan, John Len, Law Enforcement, Licensed Funeral Director, Magin & Keegan Funeral Home, Marra Funeral Home, McLoughlin & Mason Funeral Home, Michael Sikirica, Nadarajah Balasubramaniam, National Funeral Directors Association, New York State, New York State Funeral Directors Association, Newcomer Funeral Home, Newcomer Funeral Services Group, Newcomer Funerals and Cremations, Nick Facci, NYS Assembly, NYS Senate, P. David Soares, Paul Marra, Public Corruption, Rensselaer County Medical Examiner, Richard Touchette, Rick Touchette, Schenectady County Medical Examiner, SCI, Service Corporation International, StoneMor, Timmothy Cavanaugh, Uncategorized, William Loetterle

 

FTC Sells Out Consumers AGAIN!

Republished with Permission from the Funeralization Blog.

This is where you will learn what the funeral chains and funeral corporations, and their lackey the Federal Trade Commission (the federal agency that approves interstate mergers) do not want you to know.


And I have a bridge to sell you…

While you were texting or farting around on Facebook, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was selling you out to the funeral corporations. Keep texting and finding “friends” on Facebook and they’ll be composting you for the Whitehouse flowerbeds! Well, that’s one of the directions the death industry is taking if a Seattle project moves forward. The project is called the Urban Death Project, and it describes the process of turning dead humans into food (A Seattle based eco-friendly ‘initiative’ proposes a radical solution for urban food production: using human corpses as compost to feed crops). And then there’s freeze-drying and pulverization, then packaging. Or you can go for “resomation”, that is, dissolving the body and flushing it down to the sewers. It’s a market economy and it gets as weird as the weirdest ones among us. That’s because our government is handing over control to the corporations who will titillate and tantalize you to buy just about anything, if it means happy shareholders, big dividends, and profit. The Federal Trade Commission is handing over consumers’  choice to the huge corporations, including your deathcare choices.

This is where you’re at now.


In her book “American Way of Death” (1963) Jessica Mitford stunned America with vivid accounts of corruption and abuse in the death industry; in the updated sequel she revised some of her findings as the “American Way of Death Revisited”, published after Mitford’s death in 1996. Mitford didn’t change her opinion to any substantial degree. Nevertheless and by any standard of literary criticism, Mitford’s book was extremely biased by her problematic background, and was written by an obviously very disordered person, resulting in the book becoming a bestseller in the United States. Of course. But that was a time when America still had a hypocrite’s sense of decency, moral and ethical substance, and values. A lot has changed since Mitford published her books; America no longer has even a hypocrite’s sensitivities, only a chronic anxiety and paranoia inspired by rampant greed, dissatisfaction, denial and suspicion. We’ve come a long way in those 30 or so years, haven’t we?

One of the significant developments, however, one that is anecdotally attributed to Mitford’s muckraking and biased exposé, was the action taken by the Federal Trade Commission with its so-called Funeral Rule, requiring disclosure of a General Price List by funeral homes. The Rule requires funeral homes to provide consumers with accurate, itemized price information and various other disclosures about funeral goods and services. Another interesting observation is that Mitford’s rants in 1963, and her revised rants in 1998 were, to some appreciable extent, prophetic— what in 1963-98 was “muckraking” and biased is true reality in 2017 — but the key players have changed.

Or Final Rites

With the growth of the “Walmart-style” [click here to read our article] funeral home chains and factory funeral home groups like Newcomer Funeral Service Group (HQ in Topeka, Kansas) and its Newcomer Funerals and Cremations (locally in Albany and Latham), Service Corporation International (SCI) a.k.a. Dignity Memorial, StoneMor , and others (See “10 Companies that Control the Death Industry”). Families are manipulated into buying expensive goods and services they don’t need or want. Prepaid funeral money vanishes into thin air. Body parts are sold on the black market. Eight states force families to pay a funeral director even if they conduct a home funeral with no need for help from outsiders — not that we are suggesting you should start doing DYI funerals at home without some expert inputs, we do object to the “requirement to pay” for services not necessarily needed. But a consumer movement is now awakening, and Americans are asserting their rights over a key part of life, just as they did in the past with the natural childbirth and right-to-die movements. The two most prominent leaders of that movement are the authors of the book Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death, Joshua Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, and Lisa Carlson, executive director of Funeral Ethics Organization. In the book they join forces to expose wrongdoing, inform consumers of their rights, and propose legal reforms. The book includes state-by-state summaries of laws, regulations, services, and consumer concerns. (Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death  by Josh Slocum and Lisa Carlson; for other resources please see Funeral Consumers Alliance). Again, you have to be interested to pick up the book; and we advise caution whenever you read someone else’s interpretations, but it’s certainly better than continuing blindly.

Synergy Means the Corps get More Control for their Investment!

You’ve probably heard enough about Newcomer Funeral Service Group with its chain funeral homes in Albany and Latham, NY, and their questionable practices, smokescreen advertising, and irresponsible hiring practices so we’ll move on to more dangerous species of lurkers with their eyes on your credit card. This time we’ll go after Service Corporation International (SCI) who is known to consumers as Dignity Memorial, an addition you’ll probably see alongside the familiar family funeral home names that they’ve gobbled up. See Dignity Memorial, think Service Corporation International and think of a funeral-Walmart with more than 2,100 locations across the US, Canada, Puerto Rico and controlling more than 15% of the death market in the US. Think about a greedy corporation that is continuously grabbing for more and giving less. And we’ll look at another resident of the corporate Ghouls Gulch, StoneMor Partners, who are in the cemeteries acquisition business.

Synergy is the concept that the value and performance of two companies combined will be greater than the sum of the separate individual parts.


 

Our Editor’s Response to the Newcomer-Facci Exposé

Update

A reliable source has reported that Mr Facci has allegedly been reprimanded by his Newcomer keepers for failure to comply with Newcomer policies. Surprised? He’s also been reported by his colleagues at Newcomer Funerals and Cremations for alleged noncompliance and misconduct. Could it be his mouth? His attitude? We also hear Facci’s taken down his Facebook page. Wonder Why? Facci’s really quite unhappy, we hear, and is considering relocating to Florida. We suggest Cuba. We wonder if he’s that immature to think his reputation won’t follow him? We can’t say that we didn’t expect these developments. Facci made his bed; now he has to sleep in it. Too bad he didn’t appreciate what he had from the start.


The Editor’s Response

We recently republished an article about a recently licensed funeral director, Mr Nicholas J. Facci, and his online activities, his relationships with former mentors and associates, and his recent hire by a local chain funeral services provider, Newcomer Funerals and Cremations (Albany and Latham), a member of the Newcomer Funeral Services Group, a Kansas based organization with funeral homes in some 10 states. We’d like to make our own statement on that article. We’d like to respond to some of the private comments we have received in response to the article, “Birds of a Feather? Lying down with dogs? The Politics of Funeral Corporations….”


Despite the appearances and although Nick Facci is plastered all over the Internet as being associated with Riverview Funeral Home and Simple Choices Cremations, he was fired from his employment with Riverview and Simple Choices; furthermore, Facci has published numerous times on his Facebook page that he is no longer associated with Riverview or Simple Choices. He has recently been hired by the Newcomer funeral home chain, a “Walmart-type” provider, and is now working in the Albany-Latham area.


We vetted the author and verified the sources of the article. The facts were true and the majority of them came either from public sources, the Troy Record newspaper, or from Mr Facci’s own Facebook page. The facts, opinions and conclusions stated by the author were credible and truthful, and based on research of information available to anyone who is interested.

Some readers — apparently those with short attention spans — have suggested that the article is a bit long-winded. Yes. The article is a bit longer than our typical article, and while it may be a bit hard on Mr Facci, we feel that given the circumstances and Mr Facci’s conduct as well as the environment in which Mr Facci is employed, the article is important and the facts and conclusions are of significant interest to the pubic. We had and continue to have  the opportunity and the control to edit material out of the article but we chose not to do so. We continue to stand by the author and the content of the article. As for being hard on Mr Facci, Whose fault is that? The facts are the facts.

That having been said, we’d like to make some editorial remarks about some of the feedback we’ve been receiving from readers, both in the funeral services business, consumers of those services, and persons who just found the article of interest. We would like to note that we have information that Facci, Newcomer and some of the funeral directors who know Facci have been very responsive but have kept their responses pretty much under wraps. That’s how the funeral profession is, we guess. Others with personal knowledge have come forward with their information. Nothing we have received so far indicates that the article is in any way misleading or untruthful. Far from it. Most of what we have received so far actually confirms the author’s facts.

Here, in a nutshell, are our responses to the article and to our readers’ responses:

The article has been vetted and found to be substantially true in its facts. As our regular readers and followers are aware, we are very diligent in assuring that what we publish on the Smalbany blog is factually true and credible. Our community of readers and followers also know that we don’t take sides, and our sole purpose is journalistic integrity and community service. Enough said.

The author of the article was vetted and found to be reliable. The author of the article has no personal, political or economic interest in publishing the facts of the article. The author of the article is a well-known figure who has a fine reputation, is known for his defense of truth and ethics, and has excellent professional qualifications. The author is credible and the facts truthful.

Mr Facci is responsible for his conduct and his statements. The article points out a disturbing trend in the funeral services industry, how funeral director candidates are educated, trained and licensed, the importance of ethics in the funeral services profession, and the fact that poor education and immaturity can result in serious detriment to the reputation of the funeral services profession and significant injury to the customers served by unscrupulous providers. While we feel our funeral directors and family funeral homes provide a necessary and very important service to those who have lost a loved one, we have our concerns about the direction the funeral services business has been taken by the corporations and funeral home chains. We also share the author’s concerns about the quality of the people working for these funeral home chains and their motivations, and their character. These are all reasonable concerns and are presented in the article.

The article may have scared the hell out of Facci and/or Newcomer and Facci was forced to remove his Facebook posts but removing them doesn’t undo the fact that they were posted, read, and noted. Just because he removed his posts doesn’t undo the fact that he posted them in the first place. Unfortunately for Mr Facci, he can’t undo the Troy Record article and the statements he made in that article. Too bad, Mr Facci!

Unlike Facci’s former employer, we do not underestimate Facci nor are we ready to present our back to him for target practice. We are monitoring these developments closely and have our ears to the ground, so to speak.

It is all about Mr Facci, not about the author. As stated above, the article points out Mr Facci’s character and professional flaws, using Mr Facci as a so-called stereotype of a trend in the industry. The article is about Mr Facci and how he got to where he is, wherever that may be. The article is about how one immature and flawed individual can manipulate situations for his own selfish benefit, and how even veteran professionals and a large funeral home chain can be taken in by such a person.

One commenter suggested that Newcomer has a “file” on the author. Our response was: “Big deal!” If Facci or Newcomer feel that they have something interesting about the author of the article, share it! If it’s good information, we’d love to know about it. But all things considered, we can’t imagine what they could have because we’ve already checked. The so-called “file” may be printouts from anonymous Internet sites, anonymous blurbs by critics who don’t have the guts to use their real names, or sociopaths who think they have an ax to grind. No doubt, if Mr Facci had anything to do with the assembly of any file it must involve some breach of confidentiality or other unethical practice. Sorry, gentlemen and ladies, that’s not the kind of information or the sources we tend to use on this blog. Hard facts and reliable sources are what you get here. Our suggestion: Go stuff your file!

For the sake of argument, even if the author has a skeleton or two in the closet, what difference would that make. None at all. If the facts are true as presented in the article, nothing in a so-called “file” about the author can change Mr Facci’s character or conduct, nor can it justify Newcomer Funeral Services Group (Kansas) or Newcomer Funerals and Cremations (Latham and Albany) in deciding to hire Facci without even checking with his former employer(s). And if Newcomer had checked with Facci’s former employer and hired him anyway, despite the facts disclosed and Facci’s unethical conduct, Shame on Newcomer! The article is about Facci and Newcomer, not about the author.

Silence is an admission of complicity. We provide ample opportunity for anyone with something to say to say it by leaving a comment. If no one comes forward with contrary facts we have to assume that they have no defense. Fair enough. After the appearance of the article, Mr Facci was very quick to clean up his Facebook posts and many of his scandalous posts disappeared (fortunately we had already collected some of them such as those exposed in the article). A number of persons who know Facci either personally or professionally have provided comments by email or by electronic message confirming the facts in the article. Other parties have contacted us with concerns that the article could be misinterpreted. Alternative interpretations are in the head of the reader, not in the text of the article.

We are grateful for the comments about the facts. Any time we receive confirmation of facts or clarification of the facts we are very grateful because we place great value on the quality of the information we provide. Regrettably, most commenters don’t have the ability to comment, and tend to rewrite. Those comments are worthless and they don’t get published.

As for the concern that the article could be misinterpreted. Misinterpreted? How? Does it make Facci’s former employer look bad? We think not. Facci’s former employer has an outstanding reputation; even Facci made that clear in the Troy Record article, even while Facci was badmouthing Newcomer! Facci’s former employer did everything possible to teach Facci the trade and to get him through the licensing process. Even so, Facci bit the hand that literally fed him. It’s ridiculous for anyone to suggest that Facci’s mentor should have been able to have second guessed Facci’s devious mind. We cannot take responsibility for the state of mind of some readers. The article is pretty clear. If some bleeding heart wants to make believe that Facci’s conduct is excusable, that’s their problem. If some hard-nose wants to lynch Facci or Newcomer, while we wouldn’t go that far, we can’t control such a reaction. The article says what it says, no more no less. Repeat: Alternative interpretations are in the head of the reader, not in the text of the article.

Again and again and again, we have stated in our articles that we don’t want to take control of minds, we only want to get them working, thinking, and learning about what’s going on in our communities. That’s all. Our readers are free to make any decision they feel is right; we just provide the facts.

Our personal take on the situation: If Mr Facci were an elected official or a municipal employee, or if Mr Facci were a doctor, a dentist, a car dealer, whatever, we’d have the same response to the conduct and character described in the article: He’s got problems. He needs to fix those problems. Anyone who knows about his problems and continues to do business with him or hires him assumes responsibility for those flaws and problems and the repercussions. The same applies to Facci. In fact, we hold Facci’s feet to the fire particularly because he is in the position he is in. Facci is responsible for what he did, said and posted. Facci was fired from his former position when his employer had had enough of Facci’s shenanigans. Facci had even prepared for that possibility and was already providing a way out for that eventuality. Newcomer chose to ignore these facts and hired Facci. Newcomer now has to deal with those facts having been made public. Either Newcomer is willing to carry Facci’s baggage for him or they can free themselves of him; it’s their choice, and Newcomer has to live with the consequences.

We have also been informed that one person who provided Facci with a letter of recommendation actually demanded that Newcomer Funeral Service Group disregard that recommendation. The person making the recommendation, upon learning of Facci’s conduct, decided to withdraw the recommendation for reasons of conscience.

Facci and Newcomer are the authors of their own crisis. To be honest while not violating a confidence, it must be said that when the article first appeared, Facci’s former employer wrote to us requesting that we remove the article. Here is a guy who has sustained considerable damage to his business done by Facci, and he’s asking that the exposé be removed. We politely declined to remove the article. But that’s how funeral directors are. They are so used to doing their jobs and remaining behind the scenes, not intruding that they tend for forgive and not to make waves. That’s why Facci is such an interesting subject because he doesn’t care as long as he comes out on top. He’s an individual that the article uses to draw attention to the way the funeral home chains and corporations are changing the politics of death and deathcare. It’s not pretty.

Facci and Newcomer are not the only players in this dirty game. Without offering any excuses for Facci’s conduct or Newcomer’s choice of employees, we cannot avoid pointing an accusing finger at the Hudson Valley Community College Mortuary Sciences Program and the New York State Bureau of Funeral Directing, and the New York State Department of Health, all of which have their fingers in the pie. As organizations involved thickly in the training and education, the oversight, and the licensing of funeral homes and funeral directors, those organizations should be put in the spotlight. While we are informed that the Hudson Valley Community College Mortuary Sciences Program curriculum was put on hold and substantially revamped last year, it remains to be seen whether that has any concrete effect on the quality of candidates it churns out. Is Facci a perp or a victim? Is Newcomer a perp or a victim? What is Warren “Ren” Newcomer,  and Arthur Fitch, manager of Newcomer Funerals and Cremations in Albany and Latham, doing to defuse the situation? Jury is still out on those questions.

Mr Facci and Newcomer Funerals and Cremations have another reason to be grateful. Mr Facci had to be reminded to be grateful to his former employer and mentor for the fine training and formation he received. We mentioned that  in our original article. Mr Facci’s former employer and mentor has again asked that we withdraw the article; he’d like to put the experience behind him. While we don’t agree to letting Facci or Newcomer off the hook that easily, we have considered the request, and on compassionate grounds, have complied with the request as of March 31. This is an unusual action taken only at the request of the victim of an offence, we do not routinely remove an article from public view, unless we are convinced that  the victim might benefit. While the article is no longer visible to the general public, it still exists and, if a reader makes a specific request to rcs.confidential@gmail.com for access to the article, we will provide a password for accessing the article; otherwise it will not be visible to the wider public. Mr Facci and Newcomer Funeral Services Group will continue to be monitored, if only to ensure that they do not engage in any further self-destructive behavior, however.

All that having been said, we can’t ignore such headlines as, “Funeral Chain Exploits Demise of Tradition,” which asks the question “Newcomer Family Mortuary ignored industry taboos by advertising discount funerals on television. Will competition usurp tradition in this high-growth industry?” That article was nothing less than current, relevant and prophetic article and appeared in the online magazine Inc. It’s an historic article but could have been published today.

As usual, if our readers have anything to add, comments to make, information to provide, we will be very grateful if you leave a public comment by using the comment feature on this page, or if you want to leave a more confidential message please use our email at rcs.confidential@gmail.com.

Reminder: Mr Facci’s former employer and mentor asked that the original article be withdrawn. We do not withdraw articles but in compromise and out of respect for Mr Facci’s former employer and mentor,  we have restricted access to the original article by requiring a password. Readers interested in accessing the original article may request a password by making a request to rcs.confidential@gmail.com.

Thank you all for your interest and loyalty. It’s now a time for healing.

The Editor