Owners of CO funeral home arrested in OK facing fraud charges

MUSKOGEE COUNTY, Okla. (AP) – The owners of a Colorado funeral home arrested in Oklahoma after decaying bodies were found are now facing fraud charges.

Jon and Carie Hallford were arrested in Wagoner, Oklahoma, on suspicion of three felonies: abuse of a corpse, money laundering and forgery, authorities said in an email to aggrieved families.

Mugshots of Jon and Carie Hallford on KFOR background
Mugshots of Jon and Carie Hallford on KFOR background

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Jon Hallford owns Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, a small town about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Denver. The remains were found Oct. 4 by authorities responding to a report of an “abhorrent smell” inside the company’s decrepit building. Officials initially estimated there were about 115 bodies inside, but the number later increased to 190 after they finished removing all the remains.

A day after the odor was reported, the director of the state office of Funeral Home and Crematory registration spoke on the phone with Hallford. He tried to conceal the improper storage of corpses in Penrose, acknowledged having a “problem” at the site and claimed he practiced taxidermy there, according to an order from state officials dated Oct. 5.

The company, which was started in 2017 and offered cremations and “green” burials without embalming fluids, kept doing business even as its financial and legal problems mounted in recent years. The owners had missed tax payments in recent months, were evicted from one of their properties and were sued for unpaid bills by a crematory that quit doing business with them almost a year ago, according to public records and interviews with people who worked with them.

Now they are facing federal charges for fraudulently obtaining nearly $900,000 in pandemic relief funds from the U.S. government, according to court documents unsealed Monday.

Even before the new indictment was unsealed, public records revealed that the Hallfords were in debt, facing evictions and lawsuits for unpaid cremations even as they spent money and received more than $123,300 in Small Business Administration loans for COVID-19 relief, according to U.S. government data. They also got a $15,000 grant in pandemic relief, according to federal data.

RELATED STORY: Improperly stored bodies found at Colorado funeral home with ‘green’ burials

They bought two cars that together were worth over $120,000 — enough to cover cremation costs twice over for all of the bodies found, according to previous court testimony from FBI Agent Andrew Cohen. They also went on trips to California, Florida and Las Vegas, and spent $31,000 in cryptocurrency, laser body sculpting and shopping at luxury retailers, according to court documents.

The new federal charges are the latest example of the owners’ alleged lies, money laundering, forgery and manipulation over the past four years, devastating hundreds of grieving families.

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