WOONSOCKET — The other shoe dropped for embattled undertaker Todd W. Lauzon as the State Police arrested him for embezzling over $27,000 clients had given him for “pre-need” funeral contracts.
The charges come nearly five months after the director of the now-defunct T. Lauzon Funeral Home had his license suspended by the state Department of Health — allegedly for cremating a body and burying the ashes in a cemetery without obtaining the necessary permits.
Capt. James O. Demers, commander of State Police detectives, said Lauzon, 38, was arrested Wednesday at his brother's home in Westerly on charges of unlawful appropriation over $1,000, embezzlement over $100 and forgery.
Demers said Lauzon was arrested after an investigation focusing on three victims revealed he had unlawfully converted $27,564 in client funds to his own use. But he said the fraud could be the tip of an iceberg.
“We believe there may be potentially an additional 18 victims,” said Demers. “We arrested him just to get him in the system but we anticipate the possibility of future additional charges.”
In a bitter twist of fate for the Lauzon family, the arrest came just days after the death of Lauzon's father, Marc C. Lauzon, a onetime state legislator and former funeral director who handed down the family business to his son. The elder Lauzon's funeral was yesterday.
Demers said the investigation revealed that the funds in question were placed with an escrow agent, Cooperative Funeral Funds, in 2001, when Lauzon sold pre-need contracts to three clients. State law requires a third-party escrow agent to take possession of funds for such contracts, Demers said.
In November, Lauzon allegedly withdrew the funds by fabricating withdrawal request letters and forging his clients' names on them. The letters, Demers said, instructed the escrow agent to send the funds directly to the funeral home, located at 185 Spring St.
Lauzon received the checks, forged the clients' names on them and deposited the money into the funeral home's business account, according to Demers.
Lauzon provided investigators with a written statement admitting that he falsified the letters and forged his clients' names to the checks. He also admitted that he accepted money from pre-need clients that was not transferred to a third-party escrow agent and that he spent the money inappropriately, the state police said.
Bank records show little indication that that Lauzon was using the money to gamble or indulge some other expensive vice, said Demers. On the contrary, he said, the investigation suggests Lauzon may have simply gotten over his head at a time when his funeral home business had fallen off.
“It's not like he was using the money for anything extravagant,” the commander said. “It looks like it was just everyday bills.”
The pattern of fraud appears to be the same for the other possible victims, but there is also evidence that in some cases Lauzon never turned pre-need money over to a third party at all.
“They're either scammed the same way, or else he accepted the money and didn't ever send it over to a third party account,” said Demers.
A local funeral professional who asked not to be named told The Call last week that several former pre-need clients had come to him with what they thought were contracts approved through Lauzon. On closer inspection, he said, they were simply invoices Lauzon had marked as paid.
On Nov. 14, when Lauzon's lost his embalmer's license, the suspension order issued by the health department said he had buried someone's ashes, or cremains, in Precious Blood Cemetery without the prior knowledge or necessary permits from the Bellingham burial ground. The cremains were placed in a plot owned by the father of the deceased.
DOH said Lauzon admitted he had buried the remains on his own and apologized in writing in early November. He also produced paperwork indicating he had a cremation order.
But the niece of the deceased, who was also in charge of handling his estate, told health officials the signature on the cremation order was not hers. She also claimed her uncle did not want to be cremated, health official said.
Lauzon, meanwhile, remains free on $15,000 bail with surety following his arraignment in Sixth District Court. He is due back in court for another hearing on June 6.