Nov. 28—LEWISTON — The owner of a now-shuttered Lewiston cremation business allegedly told an employee to keep taking bodies it couldn't care for because it "needed the money."
New court filings offer greater insight into how Affordable Cremation Solution unraveled this year as bodies rotted in the basement while complaints from frustrated family members were ignored.
The new evidence unearthed in a lawsuit brought by eight family members indicates the business engaged in conduct so "grotesque and egregious" that it was motivated either by ill will or malice, paperwork filed Wednesday claimed.
Affordable Cremation Solution, which opened in 2016 on Main Street, began falling apart in 2020 when owner Kenneth Kincer "began spending long periods of time away" because he "was getting drunk in his home," according to the lawsuit filed against the firm by New Gloucester lawyers Taylor Asen and Meryl Poulin.
Based on a recent deposition of a part-time funeral attendant who had grown "increasingly uncomfortable" with "taking in human remains with no plan to responsibly care for them," the suit alleges that by 2021, Kincer "stopped coming into the office altogether."
The employee, Michael Bickford, allegedly expressed his concerns to Kincer many times about the growing number of complaints from worried, frustrated family members.
In the new filing with the Maine Business and Consumer Court in Portland, which seeks to add punitive damages to the claim, it alleges that Kincer responded to Bickford, "**** the clients" and that they were being "****ing impatient."
Citing Bickford's testimony in the deposition, the suit said Kincer's "hostility and contempt" for the concerns of family members showed that his conduct "was motivated by malice in that it was motivated by ill will" toward those questioning why remains were still in the possession of the business.
It called the behavior so outrageous that it opens the door to punitive damages that are typically difficult to claim under Maine law.
James Haddow, the attorney for the business, plans to challenge the effort to add punitive damages.
Asen never got the chance to interview Kincer because the former funeral home operator didn't show up to answer questions.
Instead of seeking a contempt ruling for Kincer's failure to appear for a deposition, Asen asked Justice Michaela Murphy for a conference to figure out a fruitful next step along with defense attorney Haddow.
Kincer's business was shut down and its funeral licenses were suspended in June by the Maine Board of Funeral Service, which said it found unrefrigerated bodies stacked in its basement. Investigators cited a public health violation because they found an odor of decomposition and the unrefrigerated bodies of 11 people in the basement.
Investigators found bodies on the premises "in a state of severe decomposition and there were several flies" as well as dried blood that had oozed from the decaying corpses.
Affordable Cremation Solution has ceased to exist. Kincer's funeral license has been pulled for at least a decade, though regulators said if he stays away from drugs and alcohol he may someday get it back.
Kincer's lawyer said several months ago that Kincer has been "in the grip of depression and alcoholism" since his marriage fell apart in 2020.
Under state law, a funeral establishment can operate only with the oversight of a licensed funeral director. At Affordable Cremation Solution, that meant Kincer.
The amended lawsuit filed Wednesday said Kincer "deputized his assistants to keep the business running, in willful and knowing violation of the law."
Since it had no funeral director, the business could no longer transfer remains to Gracelawn Memorial Park in Auburn, which had typically provided cremation services for the firm after about 48 hours, the suit said. Afterward, under normal circumstances, the Lewiston firm would return the cremated remains to families.
Bickford told lawyers that until Kincer began going on benders in 2020, the business never had more than five cremated bodies at a time. More than that, he said, would be unmanageable.
That did not, however, stop the Lewiston firm from taking in more remains, even though it had no plans for cremating them or storing them appropriately, the suit alleges.
The legal filing said that for Affordable Cremation Solution to transport a body to Gracelawn, Kincer had to sign off on required paperwork. But by the end of 2020, he rarely did.
The suit said "Kincer understood that, if bodies were taken into the business and the paperwork was not signed, it meant bodies were effectively 'stuck' at ACS unless and until the family decided to transfer the body to another funeral home or cremation service."
"Nevertheless, Kincer repeatedly instructed his funeral attendants, Bickford included, to continue taking in bodies for clients, thereby promising that the business would provide services," it said.
When state regulators asked Kincer about potential problems last January, the new filing said, he "purposefully and knowingly downplayed the disarray and turmoil surrounding ACS" and told them the firm was "working hard to remedy any issues."
Nothing changed, however. The filing by Asen and Poulin said that "Kincer knowingly misled" the board.
After Bickford "became increasingly uncomfortable" with the practice — and was told to ignore complaints — he threatened to quit.
"I will just find someone else to do it," Kincer allegedly responded.
Asked why Kincer continued to instruct his funeral attendants to take in bodies they could not process," the new filing said, Bickford answered, "Mr. Kincer said we needed the money."