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Tuesday, Apr 08 2014 03:32 PM

Attorney General's office files complaint against mortuary for allegedly failing to provide prepaid services

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

A complaint filed against a Lake Isabella mortuary is asking that its license be revoked or suspended for fraud and gross negligence in allegedly failing to provide prepaid burial services.

The complaint filed by the state Attorney General's office states that, in one instance, Sierra Valley Mortuary buried a 91-year-old woman in her hospital gown and failed to perform cosmetology services, embalm her and place an obituary. The woman, Dorothy Collins, had paid $11,500 for two pre-need funeral contracts that included those services.

Pre-need contracts are funeral services purchased prior to the decedent's death.

Mortuary manager Brian Coates, owner Charles Coates and other partners in the business "committed acts constituting gross negligence, gross incompetence, and/or unprofessional conduct in connection with their handling of funeral services for (Collins)," the complaint says.

Charles Coates declined comment Tuesday afternoon.

A $9,000 pre-need contract for another woman stated there would be a burial at Union Cemetery. The woman's remains were cremated instead and returned to family members while Sierra Valley Mortuary received $9,226.13 from the woman's insurance for the burial.

The complaint says the daughter of the deceased told investigators she'd never been informed of a pre-need contract for her mother, and that "Chuck" offered cremation services at minimal cost and said the state would help cover those costs. Sierra Valley then charged the deceased's insurance for a burial service that was never performed.

In addition to revoking or suspending the license of the mortuary and funeral director Brian Coates, the complaint is asking that Coates pay costs incurred by the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau's investigation. The bureau is part of the state Department of Consumer Affairs.

There's another wrinkle to the Collins case. A search warrant filed last year by Kern County sheriff's deputies says that Collins' pre-need contract should have been signed by her.

It was instead signed by a representative of Bakersfield-based nonprofit Stewards Inc., which manages Social Security benefits and provides budgeting assistance for more than 1,000 people in Bakersfield and Kern County.

Andrae Gonzales, the CEO of Stewards, said at the time that the representative who signed the contract had been placed on administrative leave and her actions were not a policy of the nonprofit.

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