The former owner of a funeral home in Millbrook, Ont., has been sentenced a 12-month conditional sentence after pleading guilty to defrauding customers of approximately $120,000.
Prior to his sentencing in Peterborough court on Tuesday, Patrick Benson apologized to his clients, family, friends and colleagues.
The former owner and operator of Benson Funeral Home pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud under $5,000 involving customers’ prepaid funeral contracts. The village of Millbrook is about 25 kilometres south of Peterborough.
Last June, Peterborough police and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) launched an investigation into the misuse of prepaid funeral contracts.
Police say the investigation revealed that between 2006 and 2015, the King Street funeral home was defrauded of $120,000 after prepaid funeral contracts were not deposited into a trust account. Furthermore, police say prepaid funeral contracts from January and February of 2017 featured forged customers’ signatures.
Benson, 44, of Otonabee Drive in Peterborough, was arrested and charged in September.
Fallis & Shields Funeral Home Inc. purchased the assets of the former Benson Funeral Home in Dec. 2015 but has no affiliation with Benson.
However, owner Bill Shields said in court that the reputation of his business has been tarnished, stating that he “continues to pay the price” for Benson’s actions and receives backlash from customers who were affected.
Shields said it’s unimaginable that a “trusted” friend would lie to him.
“Shamelessly hurting us personally and professionally with no regard at all,” Shields said in his victim impact statement. “How did I get fooled? How naive must I be, to let someone fool me like this?”
Shields says he put his heart and soul into the business for 30 years and his dream of owning a home has been turned into a nightmare.
“We will succeed, not because of you, but in spite of you,” Shields said.
In March 2017, the BAO revoked Benson’s licence, banning him from offering or selling any funeral or cremation services.
The Crown was seeking a one-year jail sentence while the defence argued for a conditional sentence plus probation, noting no client was left without a funeral and that Benson has repaid more than $100,000.
The defence also argued Benson deposited the funds into a business account rather than a trust account and that the damages incurred relate to a breach of trust and reputation.
In her sentencing, Justice Esther Rosenberg accepted Benson’s apology, acknowledging his guilty plea to avoid a lengthy trial as well as his remorse and efforts to repay the funds.
“The financial and emotional impact is extensive and it can’t be undone,” she said.
Benson’s sentencing will include four months of strict house arrest followed by six months with some conditions lifted with a curfew and the final two months with further conditions lifted. Terms include no visitors, alcohol or drugs. He will be allowed out for four hours each week to run errands.
Benson must also perform 150 hours of community service.