An Illinois comptroller's order said Elias Funeral Home owner William "B.J." Elias misappropriated nearly $50,000 provided to him from families seeking pre-need funeral contracts, and submitted false annual reports to cover up the theft.
The order, obtained by The Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, states Elias concealed the "pre-need" theft by intentionally failing to deposit the required sales proceeds into a trust or failing to purchase a life insurance policy or tax-deferred annuity within 30 days of signing the contract.
As of last week, seven victims were identified by the comptroller's office after they or family members contacted the agency after it was reported Elias' Funeral Director and Embalmer License was revoked earlier this year for failing to file a death certificate from 2016. The alleged thefts took place between 2012 and as recently as January of this year.
As a result of the comptroller's investigation, which also involved Streator police, Elias' pre-need funeral license was recently revoked. No criminal charges have been filed.
Between 2014 and 2019, the comptroller's office sought information from Elias regarding the status of the pre-need funeral funds on numerous occasions. On Jan. 10, the comptroller's office sent a delinquency invoice showing reports from 2013, 2016 and 2017 were unsubmitted and late filing penalties and annual report fees totaled $53,200.
Elias filed annual reports for fiscal years 2013 and 2016 on Feb. 19, three days before the comptroller’s office had scheduled an audit and he filed 2017 and 2018 on Feb. 27. In April, the office determined he had falsified those reports in order to hide information regarding the pre-need funds.
The Streator Police Department accompanied the comptroller auditors around April 2 to seek information from Elias at the funeral home.
“B.J. allowed the auditors access to the building, but the contents were in disarray, unorganized and B.J. was not forthcoming with any information regarding the status of the pre-need funds,” the report states.
The first instance of reported wrongdoing happened in May 2012, when a couple paid Elias $15,000 to be put into a trust or insurance policy but the money was then instead deposited elsewhere – a violation of the Illinois Funeral or Burial Funds Act. The husband died in December 2014, and funeral services were provided by the funeral home; however, the wife, who is still alive, has no pre-need life insurance policy, and no pre-need account, as outlined in the contract.
Victims said they approached Elias Funeral Home expecting services similar to that of what they’ve offered for the last 85 years. Instead, they feel swindled.
“We’ve known the family for a couple of generations,” said Sherlyn Beckman, who filed a complaint along with her parents, Sherman and Merilyn Weiss.
The Weiss family had been close to the Elias family dating back to the 1940s when they were neighbors with Elias Funeral Home founder William Elias and his children. In 2015, the Weiss family paid B.J. $19,000 for a guaranteed pre-need funeral contract to be trusted with Futura Funeral Trust. However, no trust exists with the insurance company and nothing is listed in the funeral home's annual reports.
“My mom feels very betrayed,” Beckman said. “Her grandma worked for the Eliases. Their grandpa George was great friends with my great-grandfather.”
Several similar incidents also are outlined in the comptroller's order.
Joan Berta’s father, James Spivey, made the decision to prepay his funeral in 2017 after Elias handled his wife, Lavonta’s funeral in 2013.
“My father trusted them,” Berta said. “We sat down and picked out everything that (James) wanted and B.J. wrote up a receipt and all the details on a letterhead that said 'Elias Funeral Home.' ”
What Berta and her father didn’t know was there was supposed to be a receipt from the trust fund that the pre-pay money goes into. Elias never provided a receipt. The $11,580 he paid them was never put into a trust.
“He had no intention of putting that money into a trust like he was supposed to,” Berta said. “That pissed me off right then and there.”
Berta contacted the comptroller’s office through their website and from there discovered there was no money in a trust fund for her father.
The comptroller’s office said several people have come forward since the last Times article on Elias was published on Thursday but they couldn't provide an exact number, as the investigation is ongoing.
The Times has been unable to reach Elias; the funeral home's telephone has been disconnected and emails to the funeral home are unanswered.
As of last week, the front door of the funeral home, 208 N. Park St., has a disconnection notice from Illinois American Water.
B.J. and Jason "Jake" Elias began running the funeral home in 2015 after their father's death. However, B.J. later notified the comptroller's office that he was operating the business without his brother.
The comptroller's office is asking anyone who purchased pre-need funeral services from Elias or Elias Funeral Home in Streator to contact their Pre-need Licensing and Certification Enforcement (PLACE) hotline at 877-203-3401, said Jayette Bolinski, deputy director of communications for the comptroller's office. “The comptroller’s office administers a pre-need funeral consumer protection fund and our staff can help you apply for reimbursement.”