CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Times are tough and many Clevelanders can't afford to pay for their own family members cremation or burial.
There's a taxpayer fund to help them out, but is the man collecting your cash really providing a public service or simply fleecing the families of the dead?
It's a Carl Monday investigation that's already getting the attention of city hall.
The Reverend R.A. Prince runs a Maple Heights funeral home that bears his name. As taxpayers, we're paying Prince $200,000 dollars to handle the remains of our poorest citizens.
"It's supposed to be an indigent program," said City Health Director Matt Carroll. "It's designed to reach families who have the greatest need among Cleveland residents."
Like the late Edward Pflug, who died of heart disease at the age of 48, and the mother he left behind.
"Last time I said good-bye to him was here on my floor," said Pat Pflug tearfully. "Said good-bye to him. And it was the last time."
Pflug's body was taken to the coroner, where his body was wheeled into refrigeration to preserve his remains until burial or cremation.
"What condition was Edward Pflug's body when he left the coroner's office?" asked Carl Monday.
"He was in normal condition," said Coroner Supervisor William Smith. "No sign of decomposition. Like he just passed away. He was fine."
But that's not what Prince told the family later that same day.
"What did you tell the Pflug family about viewing the body?" asked Monday.
"Mr. Pflug was in the beginning stages of decomposition," replied Prince.
Smith disagrees, and says Pflug's body was in good enough condition to be viewed by friends and family members.
Instead, his body was taken to Hillcrest Crematory and reduced to ashes.
"I'm hurt. I'm lost," said Pflug's mother, Pat. "They took away something that can't be replaced. My moment with my son."
"That's what hurts me the most," said sister Julie Giacomoni. "That this lovely teddy bear of a guy. And they just destroy his body. It's sad."
Records 19 Action News obtained show R.A. Prince billed the city $415 for the cremation, despite claims by Prince to the contrary.
Why would Prince deny what's there in black and white? Maybe it's the fact that he also billed the Pflug family nearly $1,000 for the same cremation, and an urn to hold the remains.
Cleveland Health Director Matt Caroll is now investigating after 19 Action News asked for public records. But it's not just the Pflug's and taxpayers who got stiffed by funeral director Prince.
When L.M. McCool's son, Charles, died, Prince charged him $2,000 for cremation and other services. Insurance picked up half the tab, but that didn't stop Prince from billing the city for an indigent funeral.
"Did he ever tell you he was going to charge the city for the funeral?" asked Monday.
"No, he told me the city wasn't paying," said McCool. "Period."
Larry Morehead buried his cancer stricken wife in February.
Flat broke, his wife's cremation billed to the city of Cleveland. Morehead says it didn't stop Prince from trying to sell him a $340 urn.
"If a family later comes to us and wants to buy an urn, I'm gonna sell them an urn," said Prince.
"For an indigent program, there shouldn't be other paid services provided to the family," said Matt Caroll. "That's not the purpose of the program."
When Mattie Brown's son died, Prince billed the city for his cremation.
But just before the viewing, paid for by the city, Brown says she got a call. It was R.A. Prince.
"What did he say on the phone?" asked Monday.
"He said he had to have $600 before it go forward," said Brown.
"He wouldn't bury your son?" asked Monday. "Unless you paid the money?"
"No," replied Brown. "He wouldn't have the funeral."
Brown says a family member paid Prince the $600 and records confirm that Prince also billed the city.
"If this is how the contract is being run, that's a problem and that's something we're going to uncover," said Matt Caroll.
"There's noting to hide here. I'm not trying to hide anything from you," claims Prince.
Prince claims he reimburses the city if he finds later the family's can pay for the services. 19 Action News is checking to see if that is the case.
After all, our poorest citizens deserve to die with dignity. Taxpayers and grieving families deserve answers.
"He should burn in hell for what he did," said Julie Giacomoni. "'Cause that's where he belongs. In hell."
"I think everybody has the right to say the final goodbye. The final embrace. The final kiss goodbye. And it was robbed. It was stolen from me," said Pat Pflug.
Sadly, Pat Pflug passed away two days before Carl Monday's investigation aired. The Pflug family has set up a burial fund at any First Merit Bank branch for anyone who would like to help.
©2010 WOIO. All rights reserved.
322 Shipyard Boulevard