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  • 24 Oct 2013 9:45 AM | Anonymous
    Steering his jet-black Cadillac CTS sedan along the streets of West Palm Beach, Fla., Brad Zahn offers a tour of the area’s cemeteries, one more tropically lush than the next. Zahn, owner of the Tillman Funeral Home & Crematory, embalms and buries people for a living. He employs his wife, Maribel, and one of their adult sons. Another son attends mortuary school. “My succession plan is in place,” Zahn says. He speaks evenly and wears muted business attire. One hand on the wheel, he seems the very picture of a confident entrepreneur. His demeanor turns anxious, however, when I ask about the funeral chain Service Corporation International (SCI). “How can you not be nervous,” he responds, “when the 1,000-pound gorilla gets even bigger?”

    To read the remainder of the article, please click here

  • 20 Jun 2013 8:35 AM | Anonymous
    A settlement has been proposed between hundreds of funeral homes in Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Funeral Trust, which was taken over by a court-appointed receiver last year when state investigators found it was millions of dollars short of its expected value.

    The settlement would assure both that people who invested in the trust by paying in advance for funerals get “100 cents on the dollar” and that funeral homes are “fairly compensated for their services,” said John Wirth, a Milwaukee attorney who is acting as the receiver.

    On the remaining issue of litigation against the financial players in the trust’s decline, Wirth said: “I think some litigation is almost certain, but I do believe we are very close to settling and receiving a recovery from many of the substantial players.”
    As for the proposed settlement, “all consumers whose funds were deposited in the trust will receive the funeral, burial merchandise and services called for in their burial agreement. A funeral home that signs the settlement will completely fulfill the contract first, and seek payment from the trust in stages” as the effort to recover losses continues.



    Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/funeral-customers-protected-in-proposed-settlement-in-funeral-trust-case/article_0f972715-846a-5058-b00b-08b7147cbe33.html#ixzz2WlOOIzSW
  • 20 Jun 2013 8:33 AM | Anonymous
    The beleaguered Wisconsin Funeral Trust is nearing completion on negotiations aimed at collecting about $10 million from money managers and various consultants undefined including Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley Smith Barney undefined to recoup losses from high-risk trades and investments.

    "We are working through the final details of a couple of rather significant settlements," John Wirth, the receiver for the trust, told Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson in a letter. The letter did not disclose details of the talks.

    The trust, which was created by the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association in 1999, was put into receivership in September after regulators discovered a $21 million shortfall in the fund undefined a figure that has since increased to $24.5 million. Marketed as a conservative investment, the trust actually poured millions into a variety of high-risk vehicles, including leveraged hedge funds, private equities and futures, regulators said. The fund has been under water since at least 2007. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing the fund's aggressive strategies.

    The fund, which is supposed to have $70 million on hand but actually has less than $50 million, had collected money from about 10,000 people who wanted to ensure that their funeral costs would be covered. Funeral directors who sold the investments have been honoring those contracts, and a separate settlement agreement filed in court Wednesday calls for that practice to continue.

    "The settlement ensures that all consumers whose funds were deposited in the trust will receive the funeral, burial merchandise and services called for in their burial agreement," Wirth said in a statement about the agreement filed in court Wednesday.

    To read the full article, please click here.
  • 19 Feb 2013 9:26 AM | Anonymous
    Even though Diane Dropsho worked as a hospice nurse for five years, the subject of cremation was too grim for her to discuss with anyone prior to the sudden death of her husband, Frank, from a stroke two years ago.

    It’s a different story today. Dropsho, who had just celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with Frank before he died, has strong memories of the hour she spent with his body just before it was cremated at Cress Funeral and Cremation Service’s Speedway Road location.

    She remembers seeing him laying on a gurney covered with a gold-and-tan sheet as she said her final goodbye. “Just his head showed,” Dropsho said. “He looked like a king laying in state.”

    When Dropsho heard that Cress recently built a bigger family gathering room outside its crematory in Middleton, Diane gave it a big thumbs-up. “I know families will appreciate it,” she said.



    Read more: http://host.madison.com/business/funeral-industry-changes-reflect-culture/article_ea634ed4-8ac6-594e-8ec9-9c657f71afb9.html#ixzz2LMKMuKWa
  • 19 Feb 2013 9:24 AM | Anonymous
    The court-appointed receiver of the Wisconsin Funeral Trust, which state investigators say was mismanaged to the toll of millions of dollars for people who paid for funerals in advance, said Friday that "there was substantial wrongdoing in operating the trust, and litigation is likely to occur in the near future to recover lost assets."

    John Wirth, in submitting a status report in to Dane County Circuit Court, said his office has issued 39 subpoenas and reviewed more than 100,000 pages of emails and documents.

    The "several hundred" people who held investments through Wisconsin's funeral homes and have died since the problems were exposed have, for the most part, had those funerals paid for, Wirth said. However, the funeral homes providing the services are getting about 60 cents on the dollar in reimbursement.

    He also reported that he will ask for some changes to the way the reimbursements are made, as some consumers were not able to get their money or wanted to move the money to another trust or funeral home.



    Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/crime_and_courts/court-report-details-substantial-wrongdoing-in-wisconsin-funeral-trust/article_ba05b4e8-7797-11e2-bdcc-001a4bcf887a.html#ixzz2LMJsuDaL
  • 19 Feb 2013 9:21 AM | Anonymous
    Most of the investments in the Wisconsin Funeral Trust have been liquidated because they were inappropriate for the supposedly conservative investment account, the court-appointed receiver said in a new court filing.

    The fund, created by the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association, was put in receivership in September when it was disclosed that it had a shortfall of more than $21.5 million. The fund has been underwater since at least 2007.

    Investments in the fund were "totally inappropriate for this type of investor," John Wirth, the receiver wrote in an update to the Dane County Circuit Court on the status of the receivership. Wirth, a Milwaukee attorney, said he would file an additional brief to describe how the funds were being invested to "minimize further erosion of the Trust's position."

    The trust has less than $50 million in assets, although it is supposed to hold more than $70 million. Wirth estimated that the trust's "actual deficiency" is likely $23 million or more. The trust holds money for investors who prepaid their funeral expenses. It was marketed as a conservative investment.

    The previously announced plans to sell Requia Life Insurance Co. will likely cost the trust at least $1 million when a deal is completed, Wirth wrote.

    The court filing also reiterated comments made by Wirth in previous filings and at a recent hearing over whether Scott Peterson, the fired head of the Funeral Directors Association, should receive unemployment insurance payments. During the hearing Wirth said there were "a lot of pigs at this trough," and said litigation would likely soon be filed in the hopes of recouping the losses. More than three dozen subpoenas have been issued and more than 100,000 documents reviewed, Wirth has said.

    “Based on our investigation, I have determined that there was substantial wrongdoing in operating the Trust, and litigation is likely to occur in the near future to recover lost assets and provide more protection for the Trust," Wirth said in a statement issued through a public relations firm representing the receiver. "In the meantime, we are having ongoing discussions with a variety of the parties involved, and I anticipate those conversations will continue."

    The update does not disclose the amount of payments made or owed by the trust to Wirth, other attorneys, money managers or consultants working on the receivership.
  • 03 Nov 2012 2:01 PM | Anonymous
    A Dane County judge Wednesday froze a state securities complaint against the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association and ordered that the group's beleaguered funeral trust fund remain under the control of a court-appointed receiver.

    The order comes after state regulators filed the civil complaint last month charging that the Wisconsin Funeral Trust Fund has a financial shortfall of at least $21.5 million, and that the trade group that owns it was using fraud and deceit to sell prepaid funerals contracts.

    Dane County Judge Peter Anderson ordered that the court action be stayed but said the state Department of Justice could lift the stay and resume the action at any time.

    Please click here to read the remainder of the story.

  • 18 Oct 2012 3:42 PM | Anonymous
    Consumers worried about being cheated out of death investments probably will get what’s coming to them, but their funeral home directors will get less than 70 cents on the dollar to cover their costs, the court-appointed receiver for the troubled Wisconsin Funeral Trust said Friday.

    Thousands of Wisconsin residents who thought they had taken steps to afford their funerals by buying a low-risk investment that paid off at their death undefined and hundreds of funeral home directors who thought they had locked in customers for that very service undefined are in premature mourning.

    The legal ax fell Sept. 14 on the under-performing Wisconsin Funeral Trust, a key product that the 500-member Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association (WFDA) promoted with blue-sky guaranteed returns of at least 1 percent over the going rate of a three-year certificate of deposit. The trust was found by the state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) to be more than $20 million short of its expected balance, so a Dane County judge placed the trust into receivership.



    Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/funeral-homes-will-have-to-cover-some-losses-from-troubled/article_ae59ad70-1581-11e2-a7ec-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz29gYltASA
  • 03 Oct 2012 7:27 PM | Anonymous
    The receiver for the Wisconsin Funeral Directors' Association and the Wisconsin Funeral Trust has replaced the group's executive director as well as the two brothers who acted as investment advisers for a prepaid funeral plan that might be $21 million short.

    Milwaukee attorney John Wirth said Wednesday that he took those actions after being named receiver by a Dane County judge Sept. 14, amid concerns about the solvency of the trust fund for the prepaid funerals.

    An estimated 10,500 consumers paid for the prepaid funerals. The plans were sold by funeral homes around the state, and the money was then turned over to the association. The state has alleged the funds were invested in what amounted to a high-risk hedge fund.

    Wirth said he had hired Ziegler Lotsoff Capital Management LLC and its Red Granite Division to advise the trust on the best way to handle the prepaid funeral assets held by the trust. He said he made that decision to restore confidence in the trust in addition to strengthening and streamlining operations at the funeral directors' association.

    To read more, please click here.
  • 03 Oct 2012 7:24 PM | Anonymous
    Many funeral homes in Wisconsin, including Cress Funeral and Cremation Service, are not members of the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association and have never used the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association Pre-Need Master Trust.

    Many funeral homes have used insurance or bank trusts to preplan funerals with their consumers. The consumers and funeral homes who have done so are protected by government-insured funding products and have nothing to worry about.

    Who stands to lose? The funeral homes that used the Wisconsin Funeral Master Trust. This is because many funeral homes guarantee their services and merchandise. Because of this guarantee, the consumers who have pre-funded their funerals with one of these firms will likely be made whole and their services will proceed without any change.



    Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/opinion/mailbag/bill-cress-many-funeral-directors-want-trust-investigated/article_da896740-0817-11e2-8bca-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz28HkV3Mnm
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