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Fourth Guilty Plea in Prearranged Funerals Case

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — A fourth person on Tuesday admitted to fraud for his part in an alleged scheme to bilk tens of thousands of customers of a suburban St. Louis prearranged funeral company out of up to $600 million.

Randall K. Sutton, 67, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to bank fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and misappropriation of an insurance premium. Sutton and three former colleagues National Prearranged Funerals Inc. founder James Douglas Cassity, his son Brent Douglas Cassity, and employee Sharon Nekol Province all face sentencing on Nov. 7.

“It was a long, hard-fought plea by both sides,” Sutton’s attorney, Calvin Matthews, said. “Our client ultimately determined to that what he thought was best for him.”

Sutton held several positions with the now-defunct Clayton, Mo.-based company, including president. He was also chief executive officer of an affiliated insurance company, Lincoln Memorial Life Insurance Co.

National Prearranged Funerals sold policies in several states from 1992 until 2008. Customers typically paid a single sum of up to $10,000 to cover the cost of future funeral services and related expenses.

Prosecutors said it was little more than a Ponzi scheme, with money from as many as 150,000 customers used to enrich the company’s officers and others. Prosecutors said new business provided the money needed to pay for funerals that previous customers had paid for in advance.

Trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 5 for two others associated with the company, Howard A. Wittner and David R. Wulf.

James and Brent Cassity both pleaded guilty on the same day last week. Province pleaded guilty in June.

The U.S. Attorney’s office sought plea deals, requiring 5-10 years in prison, in part because the trials figured to be long and expensive. U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan has said the trials could last three months.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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