Ron Marts' career as a funeral director in Missouri is scheduled to come to an end on March 11. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Youngs lifted a stay this morning on an order from the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors that had revoked Marts' license. With the revocation back in place, Marts was ordered to cease operations in 10 days.
The board revoked Marts' license in December after families cross-checked dates and documents that Marts had given them with the supposed
remains of their family members, only to discover that crematorium
records proved the ashes didn't belong to their loved ones. (See The Pitch's feature
on Marts from last week.)
Marts had also been
cited numerous times by state inspectors for having a cooling room at 50
degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees warmer than allowable by law; for not keeping
records; and for keeping bodies in his shop without refrigerating them
within 24 hours of death.
Marts appealed the revocation, and Youngs issued a stay, allowing him to
remain open while a court-appointed interim manager handled the
day-to-day operations of the business and filed regular reports about the condition of the funeral home.
Tuesday, board attorney Sharon Euler argued that the interim manager's
reports show that Marts Memorial Services is still a
sloppily run business with little attention paid to state regulations
and record-keeping. The cooling-room temperature continues to fluctuate,
she said. Bank accounts used to hold pre-need funeral funds have been
drained, and at least one body has remained in the shop for a full month
without being embalmed. The reports, Euler said, are proof that Marts
should be shut down permanently.
Marts' attorney, Sam Mirabile, admitted that the pre-need fund had been
emptied. But the reason wasn't
devious, he argued. Marts had just been refunding pre-need customers who
wanted their money back. And as for the refrigeration room being too
warm, Mirable said it made no sense for Marts to pay to repair the HVAC because his landlord is kicking him out of the building at the end of the month.
Perhaps sensing the need for a Hail Mary play, Mirabile tried to portray
his client not as a
funeral director without standards but as a victim of an unwarranted media attack. "Ever since the matter began in
December, there has been a media onslaught depicting Mr. Marts as some
kind of demon who has mixed ashes, thrown away ashes, done all kinds of
things to cremains," Mirabile began his argument. "He's not a demon."
He said that since news of Marts' misdeeds broke, his business has been
battered, with customers demanding refunds and crematoriums refusing to
extend him credit, as is the industry standard. Marts Memorial Services
now looks more like a start-up than a once-trusted funeral home, he said.
revealed that Marts' appeal to the board of his revocation would include discussion of a settlement that would leave his personal license intact. Mirablile said Marts wanted a
deal in which he would accept the board's revocation of his
establishment license and pre-need provider license, leaving
his personal funeral director's license active. He said Marts could then seek work in another state without the blot of a revoked
license on his professional record. That appeal is separate from the court's actions, and the board and Mirabile will address it at the board's monthly meeting in Jefferson City on Thursday.
Mirable's arguments and Marts' willingness to
leave the state failed to move Youngs. The judge addressed Marts'
failures as outlined in the gritty interim manager reports, and said
that if Marts Memorial Services remained in business, it would have a
negative impact on the public. Specifically, he cited Marts' penchant
for letting bodies linger around his shop.
"The fact remains that, again, it seems almost undisputed that
unembalmed bodies are remaining in the cooling room for what I would
characterize as inordinately extended periods of time," he said. "I
don't think I need to be an expert to know that even in a room that's
40-50 degrees, a body that has remained unembalmed for an extended
period of time will begin to decompose. And that's an unacceptable
public harm." He ordered the business shuttered in 10 days. Marts and
Mirabile left the courtroom without making any comment.
After the hearing, Hadley Cutburth, who was given ashes last summer that Marts
wrongly said were the remains of his wife, Soledad,
said the ruling was a relief. "I just wish it could have happened a few
months ago," he said. "There
are now [an] uncountable amount of people out there that have been
wronged by this individual."
Olivia Booher's family was given ashes in 2009 that Marts claimed were
her mother's. They found documentation more than a year later proving that
they weren't. She said she's happy that Marts won't be able to continue
victimizing families like hers. "Just knowing that he is no longer in a
position to possibly do this to another family, I can't even describe
the relief," she said when told of Youngs' ruling.
Cutburth, who is suing Marts in civil court, said he's pleased that
this part of the Marts saga is over. "I'm so happy now. Hopefully this
is the end of it, and I can just go home and I can start to dwell on all
the good times I had with my loving wife," he said, adding that he
considers himself lucky to have eventually been given Soledad's real
ashes. "She truly was a wonderful lady. She had to be to put up with me
for 37 years."