Iowa funeral home manager convicted of misusing prepaid funds

A mortician who misused tens of thousands of dollars intended as advance payment for funerals will avoid jail after pleading guilty.

As the owner of the Joyce Funeral Home in Emmetsburg, Andrew Joyce sold prepaid funeral plans and was required by state law to use that money to purchase funeral insurance or otherwise invest it to ensure it was available when the customer died.

Instead, state investigators found that Joyce “used the funds for his personal gain and to operate the funeral chapel,” according to a criminal complaint. And when the business went out of business in 2019, the money for future funerals was gone.

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Joyce was charged with ongoing criminal conduct, selling funeral services without a permit, and two counts of theft in a period from 2012 to 2019. In September, he pleaded guilty to counts of ongoing criminal conduct and first-degree theft. And on November 10, he received a suspended sentence and was sentenced to two years’ probation instead of 10 years in prison.

Although his attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment, Joyce wrote to the court that he had learned his lesson.

“Mr. Joyce has denounced his wrongful conduct and accepted responsibility for his actions, showing significant rehabilitation,” wrote attorney Matthew Sease.

According to the memo, Joyce gave up his funeral license, has no plans to return to the funeral industry, and now runs a construction company he started in 2019.

Victims remember the lost sense of financial security

For some of the families who had pre-purchased funeral services from Joyce, the discovery that he had lost the money came at the worst possible time.

Dave and Judy Nixon of Emmetsburg paid about $20,000 upfront for funerals, a headstone, and other expenses. Learning their investment had been lost in late 2019 felt like a “betrayal,” Dave Nixon said, and they were all too quick to confront the results when Judy was hospitalized months later and in the early weeks of COVID -19 died pandemic.

Nixon spoke at the sentencing hearing about the painful loss of security the couple felt, and told the Des Moines Register afterwards that he was not impressed with the attention Joyce’s attorney drew to his involvement and character in the community.

“By the end of the day, you’d have thought Andy would try for some kind of community award because he’s such a nice guy,” Nixon said. “…Not once did he say, ‘Dave, I’m sorry for your loss.'”

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Nonetheless, Nixon said he was satisfied with the deferred sentence given to Joyce.

“I think it was the right sentence that everything was open to the public, they all can determine what kind of citizen he is,” Nixon said.

The insurance department strives to make customers a whole

At least some of those who prepaid for Joyce Funeral Home’s service will receive a refund. The Iowa Insurance Division announced in September that it was accepting claims from customers who didn’t receive their prepaid funerals. The repayments will be made from funds the department has recovered since a court gave it control of the bankrupt funeral home’s assets in 2020.

In court filings, Sease assured the judge that all customer funds will be fully recovered.

“According to attorney representing the insurance commissioner, the receiver has liquid assets in excess of $160,000 to meet claims,” ​​he wrote. “The claims process was completed on November 7, 2022 and according to the insurance commissioner, the amount of money in receivership will be able to cover all claims with leftover money.”

Nixon said he’s filed a claim but hasn’t seen any money yet.

“I’m cynical about it,” he said of the process. “I don’t expect to see much.”

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William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at [email protected], 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.