A mortician who misused tens of thousands of dollars intended as prepayment for funerals will avoid prison after pleading guilty.
As proprietor of the Joyce Funeral Home in Emmetsburg, Andrew Joyce sold prepaid funeral plans and, by state law, was required to use that money to buy funeral insurance or otherwise invest it to ensure it would be available when the customer died.
Instead, state investigators found Joyce "used the funds for his own personal gain and to operate the funeral chapel," according to a criminal complaint. And when the business ceased operating in 2019, the money laid down for future funerals was gone.
Joyce was charged with ongoing criminal conduct, selling funeral services without a permit, and two felony counts of theft over a period from 2012 to 2019. In September, he pleaded guilty to ongoing criminal conduct and first-degree theft. And on Nov. 10, he received a deferred judgment and was sentenced to two years probation in lieu of 10 years in prison.
Although his attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment, Joyce assured the court in a presentence memorandum that he had learned his lesson.
"Mr. Joyce has denounced his wrongful conduct and taken responsibility for his actions which shows significant rehabilitation," attorney Matthew Sease wrote.
According to the memo, Joyce has surrendered his mortuary license, has no plans to return to the funeral industry, and now runs a construction company he started in 2019.
Victims remember lost sense of financial security
For some of the families who pre-purchased funeral services from Joyce, the discovery that he'd lost the money came at the worst time.
Dave and Judy Nixon of Emmetsburg paid about $20,000 in advance for funerals, a grave marker and other expenses. Learning that their investment had been lost in late 2019 felt like a "betrayal," Dave Nixon said, and they were confronted with the results all too soon when, months later, Judy was hospitalized and died during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nixon spoke at the sentencing about the wrenching loss of security the couple had felt, and told the Des Moines Register afterward he was not impressed by the attention Joyce's attorney drew to his community involvement and character.
"At the end, you would have thought Andy was going to seek some kind of community award for being such a nice guy," Nixon said. "... Not once did he say, 'Dave, I'm sorry for your loss.'"
Still, Nixon said, he was satisfied with the deferred judgment handed down for Joyce.
"I think it was the right sentence in the fact that it was all open to the public, they can all determine what kind of citizen he is," Nixon said.
Insurance Division seeks to make customers whole
At least some of those who prepaid for service from Joyce Funeral Home will receive restitution. The Iowa Insurance Division announced in September it was accepting claims from customers who had not received their prepaid funerals. Repayments will come from money the division has recovered since a court gave it control of the insolvent funeral home's assets in 2020.
In court filings, Sease assured the judge that all customer funds will be fully restored.
"According to the attorney representing the insurance commissioner, the receivership has liquid assets of over $160,000 to cover claims," he wrote. "The claim process closed on November 7, 2022, and according to the Insurance Commissioner, the amount of money in the receivership will be able to cover all claims with money leftover."
Nixon said he submitted a claim, but hasn't seen any money yet.
"I'm cynical about it," he said of the process. "I'm not expecting to see a great deal."
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa funeral home director sentenced for mishandling prepaid money