Probe Continues Into Purcell Funeral Home

Saturday, February 24th 2007, 1:59 pm
By: News On 6

PURCELL, Okla. (AP) -- State and local investigators met with representatives of about 20 families who purchased prepaid benefits from a funeral home where the owner was arrested in a recent drug raid.

An investigation by the state Insurance Department revealed the Yoakum-Damet Funeral Home in Purcell hadn't been licensed to sell prepaid funeral benefits since 2004, and payments made before and since could be forever lost.

The Purcell business was shut down Feb. 13 by law enforcement agents in a drug raid. They arrested owner Charles "Mike" Damet and five others.

Marilyn Standridge, whose father Ermon West died in 2002, said West would have been devastated to learn there were problems with his funeral plans.

"We took him on oxygen and in a wheelchair to the funeral home, and he picked all this stuff out so we wouldn't have to worry about it," Standridge said.

On Friday, Standridge accompanied her mother and stepfather, Mattie and Olvis Edwards, to the Purcell Multi-Purpose Center, where investigators from the Insurance Department spent three hours interviewing people who bought prepaid benefits from the funeral home.

The Insurance Department is investigating Yoakum-Damet for fraud, while law enforcement agencies investigate the drug charges.

Marc Young, communications director for the Insurance Department, said Friday's event helped the department collect information from more victims to build its legal case and, perhaps, recover part of the prepaid money for victims.

People who did business with Yoakum-Damet gave bank records, copies of checks and prepaid funeral paperwork to the investigators. According to a search warrant affidavit filed Friday in McClain County District Court, some funds may be at First American Bank of Purcell in a trust for "pre-need policies."

But investigators and policyholders alike fear much of the money will never be recovered. While the primary focus is on transactions made after Aug. 4, 2004, money received before that date also may have been mishandled.

"There is concern in any case like this to see if money was misappropriated," Young said. "We can't make guarantees, but ... we hope we can find the money."