Obituaries & Recent Services

Posted on 14-06-2012

The Fight To Get Purple Lights

Posted on 29-10-2014

June 3, 2010

Richard Wojcik complained after being told lights were illegal

The flashing purple lights are an unmistak­able symbol for funeral processions across the province. And until Wednesday, they were illegal.

But now Manitoba Public Insurance offi­cials say they’ll allow funeral operators to have the lights on their vehicles to improve road safety in the province.

The move came after funeral operators like Richard Wojcik went to MPI and re­quested a rule change. Wojcik, the owner of Wojcik’s Funeral Chapel, said he was angry after being ticket­ed twice by police for having the lights on his vehicles. He estimated the company spent about $8,000 outfitting two Crown Victorias with purple light bars across their roofs to lead funeral processions.

He was irate when police contacted him in 2009 and told him he was breaking the law — especially since he’d had the lights on one car since 2004. He said the light is a visible and symbolic indicator to other drivers to “slow down.”

“You cannot miss that vehicle coming down a street,” said Wojcik.

Now, funeral operators can apply for a free permit to install the lights and will only be allowed to flash them when leading a pro­cession.

The lead vehicle in a funeral procession in Winnipeg must slow down or halt at red lights and stop signs, checking for safety before proceeding. After that vehicle pass­es through the intersection, the convoy of vehicles has the right-of-way over the other vehicles at the intersection.

Police said earlier this year the law caused a traffic hazard because motorists in a pro­cession might have been confused about the right-of-way. One officer said it was only a “matter of time” before a fatality occurred.

MPI sent a letter Wednesday to about 55 funeral operators informing them the change is to “increase the visibility of fu­neral processions and, in doing so, alert other road users to the special right-of-way provisions.”

Flashing purple lights will only be allowed for funeral vehicles leading processions, not for motorists interested in jazzing up their vehicles.

“They’re distinctive, they’re eye-catch­ing… studies have shown that the flashing purple lights are very distinctive. They are even more so distinctive than the usual red and blue that (emergency vehicles) are using now,” said MPI spokesman Brian Smiley.

MPI said in the letter policing agencies will also be notified about the rule change.

Sgt. Doug Safioles of Winnipeg Police Ser­vice’s central traffic unit said he hopes the lights will improve the general safety of fu­neral processions.

“Most police don’t support funeral proces­sions going through red lights… it’s just so dangerous,” he said.

Russell’s Funeral Home Investigation

Posted on 29-10-2014


A Slap in the Face

By Mark T. Buss

Giesbrecht honoured by funeral industry despite RCMP investigation

A former Beausejour mayor and long time funeral home director currently being investigated by the RCMP commercial crimes division for alleged misappropriation of funds has recently received a service award from the Alberta funeral industry, and that’s not sitting well with some of his colleagues in Manitoba.

Richard Wojcik of Wojcik’s Funeral Chapel calls recent accolades from the Alberta Funeral Service Association (AFSA) to Harvey Giesbrecht for 30 years of funeral service distinction a “slap in the face” to Beausejour area residents amid allegations money placed in Giesbrecht’s care for prepaid funeral services is still unaccounted for.

“It’s pretty sick. I’m just glad I was sitting down when I read this,” Wojcik said. “When I saw this award was for his dedication and service to the industry it makes me wonder where society is going.”

The Long Term Service Funeral Service Distinction Award was presented to Giesbrecht and his wife Julie in April at the AFSA’s annual conference and exhibition in Alberta. The awards are given out every five years.

Since July of 2009, the Giesbrechts – former proprietors of Russell Funeral Home Ltd. of Beausejour – made national headlines when the Beausejour RCMP, the RCMP’s commercial crimes unit and the Public Utilities Board (PUB) began investigating them following allegations moneys given to the funeral home for prearranged services may not have been deposited into trust funds, which contravenes the Prearranged Funeral Services Act.

According to the PUB, Russell, like most funeral homes, sold prearranged funeral service plans.

When Harvey Giesbrecht acquired ownership of Russell Funeral Home in August 2002, he advised he had no intention of selling prearrangements that required moneys to be placed in trust. He did indicate he would, with client funding, arrange for insurance policies for prearranged funerals at the time of need, PUB documents show.

That was called into question in July 2009 when Wojcik – himself a former Beausejour resident – was in the process of purchasing Russell’s chapel and property. Going though the documentation, Wojcik discovered discrepancies in the files. He notified the RCMP and the PUB.

Over 20 individuals have since been interviewed by the RCMP with dozens of families believed to be involved. The investigation is ongoing. No charges have been laid.

Although officials have been tight lipped about the monetary value involved, Wojcik believes the total could be into the “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

According to PUB executive director Gerry Gaudreau, enough evidence came forward at the time to suspend Giesbrecht’s licence under the Prearranged Funeral Services Act in Manitoba. The PUB is a branch of the Province of Manitoba’s Intergovernmental Affairs that licenses owners and agents under the Cemeteries Act and funeral directors under the Prearranged Funeral Services Act.

Russell Funeral Home Ltd. has since ceased operations.

Literally left holding the casket, Wojcik covered the cost of at least three funerals where users claim to have prepaid in an effort to alleviate the concerns of the families involved.

As a result, Wojcik said he withheld payment on the property until the matter could be straightened out. Because the sale of the property had not been finalized, the PUB put a lien on Giesbrecht’s properties, which included the Beausejour funeral home.

Unable to purchase the property, Wojcik has since moved out of the building. It remains empty and for sale.

“The biggest disappointment for me is that it’s one year this month since this nightmare started and there’s still no resolution,” Wojcik said.

Giesbrecht was first elected a councilor with the Town of Beausejour in 1995 and served two terms over seven years. In 2002, he was elected mayor and served one four-year term. He was voted out of office in 2006.

Following the start of the 2009 investigation, Giesbrecht left the province and began working at Serenity Funeral Home in Edmonton under the direction of Garry Howdle, one of Giesbrecht’s former colleagues from Manitoba.

AFSA executive director Deanna Schroeder said Geisbrecht’s nomination for the 30-year award was submitted by Howdle. Giesbrecht’s nomination information shows his years of service in Manitoba but the name ‘Russell Funeral Home’ does not appear.

Schroeder added the AFSA took the nomination information at face value claiming the Alberta association was unaware of the ongoing RCMP investigation in Manitoba.

“We had no idea,” Schroeder said, adding if they had known things might have been handled differently. “Although the situation is a surprise it does not negate the last 30 years of service.”

Marilyn McPherson of the Alberta Funeral Board gave differing information.

“Everybody knows,” McPherson said, noting the Alberta media have done several stories on the situation.

Although the PUB pulled Giesbrecht’s licence to sell prearranged services, McPherson said Giesbrecht has since applied for and received his embalmers and funeral directors licence in Alberta. She said he met the criteria, he hasn’t been charged by the RCMP and he didn’t have either licence taken away in Manitoba.

Wojcik said he was surprised to learn Giesbrecht received his directors licence in Wild Rose Country claiming he was given assurances by the Alberta Funeral Board that would not happen until after the RCMP investigation in Manitoba was complete.

“It’s unbelievable,” Wojcik said. “Not only did he leave this province with his licences intact he’s allowed to go to another province and continue working as if nothing is going on.”

Dave Pritchard of Bardal Funeral Homes agreed.“It’s a joke,” Pritchard said. “It’s embarrassing that Alberta would not only give him a licence, but to give him an award while he’s only been working there for a few months… I just don’t know.”

In 2009, A.S. Bardal Ltd. filed a lawsuit claiming that the Giesbrechts owe more than $91,000 from the $175,000 promissory note they signed on Aug. 1, 2002, when they bought Russell Funeral Home from the Winnipeg company. The lawsuit was filed in court after hearing the Giesbrechts were selling the business and that the RCMP were investigating.

Documents filed in court claim Bardal made numerous demands for payments since August 2003, but the Giesbrechts have refused to make installments.

The lawsuit also claims a cheque issued to Bardal on July 15, 2009 bounced. No further information on the lawsuit was available at press time.

The Clipper Weekly could not reach Giesbrecht for comment. Calls to Manitoba Funeral Services Association president Jody Nicholson were not returned.

MFSA executive director Thorunn Petursdottir did not offer an official response to Giesbrecht receiving a long service award but confirmed the Manitoba association has no plans to honour him in a similar fashion.

“We have nothing in the works,” Petursdottir said.

June 9,2010

Grieving families protected?

Wojcik says strengthened funeral home rules mean little if not enforced

The funeral home owner who blew the whistle on the alleged misappropriation of funds by a former Beausejour funeral home director believes new provincial regulations claiming to protect grieving families will do little if the regulations are not enforced.

Richard Wojcik of Wojcik’s Funeral Chapel said last month’s announcement by Family Services and Consumer Affairs Minister Gord Mackintosh outlining greater protection for families when purchasing funeral and cremation services doesn’t go far enough in his opinion as on-site audits will not be increased.

“It is upsetting,” Wojcik said. “If policing of the rules is not changed then it really does nothing.”

Mackintosh’s May 13 announcement stated under a strengthened Funeral Directors and Embalmers Act, funeral directors now need to provide consumers with clear, complete and consistent information about available supplies and services including an itemized statement of services selected by the consumer and the cost for each.

The code of ethics and regulations are backed up with a direction that funeral directors inform purchasers of their rights and the complaint process at an initial meeting.

A mandatory and enforceable code of ethics also requires that remains cannot be withheld if payment is late, a mandatory 24-hour contract cancellation period is in place and that a family or independent adviser is present when a purchaser is a vulnerable person.

“For grieving families, there are immediate and often complex funeral arrangements to make at a time when they are most vulnerable,” Mackintosh said. “With these changes, which came into effect on Feb. 1, we have one of the strongest acts in Canada. It will help ensure transparency and accountability by funeral homes and remove the worry that families may be treated unfairly.”

According to Jody Nicholson, president, Manitoba Funeral Service Association, the regulations also provide for a stronger range of remedies including fines, licence suspensions, the ability to assess hearing costs and a web site where Manitobans can review information about hearings of disciplined funeral directors.

“The funeral homes we represent have always endeavored to provide the highest quality service to those in need,” said Nicholson. “These new regulations build upon that excellent record and will enhance our openness to the public.”

The increased guidelines come in the wake of a 2009 RCMP and Public Utilities Board investigation into Harvey Giesbrecht, and his wife Julie Giesbrecht – former proprietors of Russell Funeral Home Ltd. of Beausejour – following allegations moneys given to the company for prearranged funeral services may not have been deposited into trust funds, which contravenes provincial law.

Wojcik contacted officials last fall when he was in the process of purchasing the longtime Beausejour funeral home property and discovered discrepancies in prepaid funeral files.

An investigation by the PUB qualified Wojcik’s claims as enough evidence came forward where they suspended the license of Giesbrecht – also a former Beausejour mayor – under the PFSA and put a lien on his properties.

The RCMP commercial crimes unit is also investigating if fraud has been committed in this case. No arrests or charges have yet been laid.

By his own estimation, Wojcik believes dozens of families may be affected in a case that, he says, has irreparably damaged public trust in Manitoba morticians and left a black cloud over the community.

Russell Funeral Home Ltd. has since ceased operations. Giesbrecht was last reported to still be working in the funeral industry in Alberta.

Although officials have been tight lipped about the monetary value involved, Wojcik believes the total could be into the “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

Wojcik wound up doing at least three gratis funerals for the families affected during the ongoing investigation.

Wojcik believes the provincial government is partly to blame for the current situation. He said the PUB has allowed funeral homes to sell prearranged funeral packages for years but does not properly regulate the process.

In October 2009, Public Utilities Board officials confirmed the PUB does not have the staff to do on-site audits of all prearranged funeral services adding there was no mandate to do so at the time.

“I am disappointed because this brings no closure for the Beausejour families affected,” Wojcik said. “Increased ethics are good to a degree but it is disturbing the government wouldn’t close the door on this seeing as this happened on their watch.”

January 22,2010

Left holding the casket

By Mark T. Buss

Former Beausejour mayor investigated as funeral money unaccounted for

A former Beausejour mayor is being investigated by the province and the RCMP following allegations money placed in the care of the funeral home he and his wife operated is unaccounted for.

Harvey Giesbrecht, and his wife Julie Giesbrecht – former proprietors of Russell’s Funeral Home of Beausejour – are currently being investigated by the Beausejour RCMP, the RCMP’s commercial crimes unit and the Public Utilities Board following allegations moneys given to Russell’s for prearranged funerals may not have been deposited into trust funds, which contravenes the Prearranged Funeral Services Act.

According to Public Utilities Board executive director Gerry Gaudreau, enough evidence has come forward for the PUB – a branch of the Province of Manitoba’s Intergovernmental Affairs that licenses owners and agents under the Cemeteries Act and funeral directors under The Prearranged Funeral Services Act – to suspend Harvey Giesbrecht’s licence under the act.

The PUB is now requesting public assistance in the matter by asking persons who may have paid funds to Russell’s for prearranged services – which had not yet been provided at or before July 1, 2009 – to contact the board with arrangement details and supporting documents.

“We are trying to confirm whether or not there were deposits with Russell’s Funeral Home that weren’t put into trust,” Gaudreau said. “In our review of the records it does appear there is some. We have some dollar amounts … but what we want is for people to come forward and confirm that for us.”

According to the PUB, Russell’s, like most funeral homes, sold prearranged funeral service plans.

When Harvey Giesbrecht acquired ownership of Russell’s Funeral Home in August 2002, he advised he had no intention of selling prearrangements that required moneys to be placed in trust. He did indicate he would, with client funding, arrange for insurance policies for prearranged funerals at the time of need, PUB documents show.

Giesbrecht annually was required to file an affidavit with the PUB confirming he had acted in compliance with the act. He also filed statements certified correct by the trust company holding the funds.

That was called into question in July 2009 when Richard Wojcik of Wojcik’s Funeral Chapel was in the process of purchasing Russell’s chapel and parking lot.

Going though Russell’s documents, he discovered discrepancies in the files. He notified the RCMP and the PUB that Giesbrecht may have received money from families and that money may not have been placed in trust.

Although officials are being tightlipped about the monetary value involved, Wojcik believes the total could be into the “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

As a result, Wojcik said he withheld payment on the property until the matter could be straightened out. Because the sale of the property had not been finalized, the PUB put a lien on Giesbrecht’s properties, which included the Beausejour funeral home.

Russell’s Funeral Home has since ceased operations.

Literally left holding the casket, Wojcik said he now finds himself in the unenviable position of trying to calm those who claim to have given money to the previous owners. He said some people have been given written confirmation from the PUB their money is in trust but there are others who appear to not be as lucky.

“This is all very disheartening and disappointing. The hardest part of this is believing this is happening, especially in my hometown,” Wojcik said.

Starting in 1941, Russell’s Funeral Home became a pillar of Eastman’s business community with patriarch Oscar Russell one of the most respected businessmen in the history of Beausejour.

Wojcik himself started working at Russell’s as a 12-year-old, part of the reason he was trying to purchase the property.

Wojcik said when he sells a prearranged funeral package, cheques are made out to FamilySide, Assurant Life of Canada or Purple Shield – national and international funeral insurance companies where funds are held in trust – and never to him or his company.

“It protects the user. The funeral home itself has no access to the money and my clients are very comfortable with that,” Wojcik said. “It can also be transferred by the family from one funeral home to another if they move to a different province say, or if they want to use a different funeral home for whatever reason.”

He added when the contract is to be honoured, money is only then released to the funeral home after the service is done and proof of death is verified.

“One piece of advice I can give is that anyone prearranging a funeral should never give money directly to the funeral home or written out to an individual person,” Wojcik noted. “The money should go directly to Assurant or some other (trust).”
Harvey Giesbrecht was first elected a councillor with the Town of Beausejour in 1995 and served two terms on council over a course of seven years. In 2002, he was elected mayor and served a four year term. He was voted out of office in 2006.

Wojcik believes the provincial government is partly to blame for the Russell’s situation. He said the PUB has allowed funeral homes to sell prearranged funeral packages for years but does not properly regulate the process.

“Do we do onsite audits of all prearranged funeral services, no we don’t,” Gaudreau said. “We don’t have the staff for that kind of thing.”

Gaudreau noted the board is reviewing the idea of changing the process as they move forward but there currently is no mandate to do so.

“It’s difficult to do a knee-jerk reaction based on one set of circumstances, although that one set of circumstances may be significant,” he said.

As a result, Wojcik said he has declined being licensed under the Prearranged Funeral Services Act.

“I’m glad I’m not and I wouldn’t want to be licensed by them,” Wojcik said. “All the funeral homes that are listed with them are now going to be placed under the microscope.”

While the PUB investigation is of a civil matter, Const. Anne Wowchuk of the Beausejour RCMP verified her investigation is in the preliminary stages but will be looking to incorporate information gathered by the PUB. To date, no charges have been laid.

“We have determined there are irregularities of a financial aspect. Now we are determining if any criminal activity has taken place,” Wowchuk said.

“Although the investigations are separate, we are trying to work hand in glove here,” Gaudreau added.

Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Wowchuk at the Beausejour RCMP Detachment 268-1234

November 12, 2009

Giesbrecht investigation grows

By Mark T. Buss

Number of alleged Russell Funeral Home pre-paid clients on the rise

The RCMP investigation of a former Beausejour mayor and funeral home director amid allegations he did not properly allocate prepaid funeral funding continues to grow as families claiming to be affected come forward.

Richard Wojcik of Wojcik’s Funeral Chapel said six more families have come forward following media reports about RCMP and Public Utilities Board investigations into Harvey Giesbrecht, and his wife Julie Giesbrecht – former proprietors of Russell Funeral Home Ltd. of Beausejour – following allegations moneys given to the company for prearranged funeral services may not have been deposited into trust funds, which contravenes provincial law.

By his own estimation, Wojcik believes dozens of families may be affected in a case that, he says, has irreparably damaged public trust in Manitoba morticians and left a black cloud over the community.

“We felt there would be more people and we are thankful they are coming forward. There’s been a half dozen since the story was printed in The Clipper so it’s making progress” said Wojcik. “This really has been an eye-opener province-wide and has been devastating to a lot of people.”

When Wojcik was in the process of purchasing the longtime Beausejour funeral home property in July, he discovered discrepancies in prepaid funeral files. He notified the Beausejour RCMP and the PUB – a branch of the Province of Manitoba’s Intergovernmental Affairs that licenses owners and agents under the Cemeteries Act and funeral directors under The Prearranged Funeral Services Act – that Giesbrecht may have received money from families and that money may not have been placed in trust, contrary to the PFSA.

An investigation by the PUB qualified Wojcik’s claims as enough evidence came forward where they suspended Harvey Giesbrecht’s licence under the PFSA and put a lien on his properties.

The RCMP commercial crimes unit is also investigating if fraud has been committed in this case.

“Between ourselves and the commercial crimes unit we’ve interviewed almost 20 people in the Beausejour and Pine Falls areas,” Beausejour RCMP Const. Anne Wowchuk said. “The investigation is ongoing.”

Russell Funeral Home Ltd. has since ceased operations.

Although officials have been tight lipped about the monetary value involved, Wojcik believes the total could be into the “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

Giesbrecht was first elected a councillor with the Town of Beausejour in 1995 and served two terms over seven years. In 2002, he was elected mayor and served one four-year term. He was voted out of office in 2006.

Julie Giesbrecht is also the former mayor of Ste. Anne.

While the PUB has given written notification to those who forwarded money to Giesbrecht and had it forwarded into trust accounts, there are others who appear to not be as lucky.

Since July, Wojcik has already done three gratis funerals for families that claim they gave money to Giesbrecht but have little to show for it.

Val Lange is one such Beausejour resident. When her mother Wilma Archer passed away in April 2008, Lange and her siblings decided to go the prearranged route for their father Lawrence Archer.

Lange said she dealt with Russell employees to arrange things like cremation, a clergy honourarium and the service – all to the tune of over $4,800.

When it was time to hand over the bank draft – made out to Russell Funeral Home as per company request – Lange said Giesbrecht made his only appearance during the transaction and personally accepted the funds.

“I was never told the money was going into trust but I was told not to worry,” Lange said. “All the paperwork I received said to make cheques payable to Russell Funeral Home, so that’s what we did.”

When Mr. Archer passed away this past September, Lange called in the funeral service she paid for only to be notified the funds submitted were unaccounted for by the government.

“It was very upsetting,” Lange said. “What if my parents had done this on their own and not told anybody? Nobody would have known anything about it. At least I had the bank draft and some paperwork to show that money was paid.”

Although he could have denied doing the service, Wojcik said he followed through with the funeral at no charge in an effort to alleviate the concerns of the family involved.

“I feel bad for these families and I couldn’t let them go through this without doing something,” Wojcik said.

Wojcik believes the provincial government is partly to blame for the current situation. He said the PUB has allowed funeral homes to sell prearranged funeral packages for years but does not properly regulate the process.

Public Utilities Board executive director Gerry Gaudreau confirmed the PUB does not have the staff to do on-site audits of all prearranged funeral services. He noted the board is reviewing the idea of changing the process as they move forward but there currently is no mandate to do so.

When asked if he thought he would receive payment from the province as they were ultimately in control of the program, Wojcik laughed.

“I highly doubt the government will pay anything towards this and that’s disheartening,” Wojcik said. “Other provinces have money set aside in case something like this happens but not Manitoba.”

Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Const. Wowchuk at the Beausejour RCMP Detachment 268-1234.

November 9, 2009

CONSUMERWATCH:

planning and pre-paying for funerals

When Sharon Burrows stepfather died five years ago–his arrangements were handled by Harvey Geisbrecht at Russell funeral home in Beausejour.

Sharon’s mother, Kay Hrynchuk was so impressed with the experience, she decided to pre-arrange her own funeral.

But, now her money is missing and so is her trust.

Richard Wojcik is equally disturbed. He just bought and took over the funeral home in July.

“I discovered that the pre-arranged funeral monies, there were some concerns. The files–some were missing, ” says Wojcik.

It’s estimated more than 20 families may be out money.

Wojcik is covering the costs of some of those pre-arranged funerals.

The Public Utilities Board is investigating and has put liens on Giesbrecht’s property.

When contacted by CTV News, Giesbrecht referred calls to his lawyer, saying “I’m confident at the end of the day things will be rectified.”

Giesbrecht’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

If you or someone you know have set up pre-arranged funeral set up with Russell Funeral home contact Beausejour RCMP at (204) 268-2612 and the Public Utilities Board at 945-2638.

Harvey Giesbrecht is still working in the funeral business at a funeral home in Edmonton, Alberta.

CTV contacted the board that regulates and hands out licenses for the funeral industry in that province. They say because Giesbrecht hasn’t officially been charged with anything, there is no reason to deny a license.

However, they are aware of the investigation and say he is only licensed to embalm or prep. He is not to handle money, say officials.

In the meantime, RCMP Commercial Crimes Unit is also investigating whether or not a fraud has been committed.

The Manitoba Funeral Service Association says in the last year or two, it has been advocating to change the act that regulates funeral directors and embalmers, pushing for more accountability and transparency as well as an addition of a code of ethics to the act.

Amendments are expected to be complete by February 1, 2010.

Right now, the PUB only has one investigator for the entire province to monitor funeral directors and pre-paid services. It says it is now reviewing how the system is set up.

Until then, consumers need to protect themselves by keeping good files and documents on any arrangements they’ve made, letting their loved ones and legal advisors know exactly what was planned.

If you’re thinking about pre-planning or pre-paying for a funeral, here’s what you need to know:

Some funeral homes put their money in trust with the Public Utilities Board.

Others put your money in trust with a funeral insurance company.

You should never give a cheque in the name of the funeral director or home.

And there are specific questions you should ask.

Richard Wojcik says you need to ask, “where is my money? I would like to have proof of where my money is deposited and how much?”

The PUB also suggests getting several copies of contracts and files and leaving one with a legal representative and another with a loved one.

According to the Manitoba Funeral Service Association, the average funeral cost is between five and seven thousand dollars

October 30, 2009

Beausejour funeral-home owners face lawsuit

THE former owners of the Beausejour Funeral Home are suing the current owners, who are being investigated for allegations of misappropriation of funds given by people prearranging funerals.

In a lawsuit filed in Court of Queen’s Bench in August, A.S. Bardal Ltd. is suing Harvey Giesbrecht, president of Russell Funeral Homes Ltd., his wife Julie, who was vice-president, and Russell Funeral Homes Ltd. itself.

Bardal, whose head office is in Winnipeg, is claiming that the Giesbrechts owe $91,245.93 from the $175,000 promissory note they signed on Aug. 1, 2002, when they bought the funeral home in Beausejour.

Thomas Goodman, A.S. Bardal’s lawyer, says the amount is growing daily by $24.29 because of interest costs.

Goodman said his client filed the lawsuit in court after hearing the Giesbrechts were selling the business and that the RCMP were investigating.

“They have an overarching concern because they’re a longstanding reputable firm and these allegations do not reflect well on the funeral industry,” he said.

“My client has no association with this, other than being a creditor.”

Earlier this month, the Public Utilities Board, which governs the province’s prearranged funeral services legislation, pulled the funeral home’s licence after an initial review determined the funeral director accepted funds for prearranged funerals but didn’t put the money into a trust or insurance plan.

The PUB didn’t know the Russell Funeral Home was selling prepaid funerals because it had earlier accepted a promise by the funeral home owner that they weren’t going to do it.

The owner of a funeral home purchasing the one in Beausejour, and who blew the whistle to authorities after looking through the firm’s records, estimates dozens of prearranged funerals could be involved, representing “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The Giesbrechts could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit claims the Giesbrechts agreed to pay Bardal interest on a semi-annual basis the first year and then pay both principal and interest.

Documents filed in court claim Bardal has made numerous demands for payments since August 2003, but the Giesbrechts “have refused to make the installments current.”

The lawsuit also claims that a cheque issued to Bardal on July 15 bounced

November 1, 2009

Firm loses licence for prepaid funerals

People who prearranged to be buried or cremated by one Beausejour funeral home are unsure what happened to their cash.

The Public Utilities Board is asking people who prepaid for funerals at that community’s Russell Funeral Homes to contact the board because of alleged irregularities with the business’s records.

PUB executive director Gerry Gaudreau said the board has already yanked the prearranged funeral services licence from Harvey Giesbrecht after an initial review determined the funeral director wasn’t depositing payments for prearranged funeral services into a trust.

“The funeral director indicated to us he would honour the former prearranged funerals from the previous owner, but he wouldn’t in future do it,” Gaudreau said. “We had no reason to suspect anything differently.”

Richard Wojcik, owner of Wojcik’s Funeral Chapel, said he discovered the alleged irregularities when he was purchasing the funeral home from Giesbrecht and started going through the records.

Wojcik said he began contacting the families who had prepaid for funerals, asking them to send him copies of their paperwork.

He estimated the allegations could involve 30 to 50 families and represent “hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“I’m glad I caught it. If it wasn’t for me, I don’t know how long it would have gone on.”

Gaudreau said the PUB will investigate back to 2002, when Giesbrecht took over the funeral home.

The board has put a lien on properties owned by Giesbrecht. “We’re fearful people will find out only when that day comes that the money is not there for a funeral,” Gaudreau said.

Giesbrecht, former mayor and councillor in Beausejour, could not be reached for comment. His wife, Julie, is the former mayor of Ste. Anne.

Giesbrecht’s lawyer, Richard Middleton, said he could not comment until speaking with his client.

Wojcik, who brought the information to the RCMP, said people prepaying for a funeral should never pay a funeral home directly. He said payment should always be to a trust or an insurance company specializing in funeral payments.

Wojcik said even though he wasn’t the owner of the funeral home when the alleged irregularities occurred, he has been covering the cost of the prepaid services.

“I didn’t do this, but I feel bad for these people,” he said. “The public should know we’ve been covering the cost of the funerals.”



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