Grieving families in Nassau County and the Bronx were cheated out of tombstones and other burial monuments despite paying fees upfront to cemetery-monument companies, according to a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Letitia James’ office.
The suit, against Polanco Monuments, Heavenly Monuments and the companies' owners, alleges years of having engaged "in a deceptive and fraudulent scheme," having "induced vulnerable consumers coping with the death of a loved one to pay upfront fees for monuments typically costing" between about $995 and $4,200, "and subsequently failing to provide the promised service."
In total, 26 people from Nassau and the Bronx were cheated out of $50,000, the suit says.
The businesses operated from 80 Main St., Hempstead, as well as several addresses in the Bronx, the lawsuit says.
None of the defendants — who include Ramon A. Polanco, Juan Polanco and Victoria Nolasco — could be reached for comment Friday. The suit was filed Oct. 8 but publicized Friday by James’ office in a news release. Ramon Polanco and Juan Polanco were identified as company owners in the news release.
The suit seeks a court order to stop future misconduct, reimburse those allegedly cheated, and provide for an accounting to find potential undetected wrongdoing.
The news release about the suit says the companies "distributed brochures and flyers at funeral homes, interacted directly with consumers during unsolicited house visits, and on their website and other online platforms such as Yelp. In fact, the owners employed these tactics to lure consumers into paying upfront fees for cemetery monuments that they never intended on providing."
The release adds: "When consumers followed up to inquire about the status of their purchase, they were repeatedly stalled with excuses, and often their calls went unanswered. Many of their contracts failed to include terms required under state law. When consumers showed up in person to inquire about their purchase status, they learned that the businesses had abruptly closed without any prior notice."
In one complaint, excerpted in the suit, a man whose parents died in 2013 and 2014 says he got an unexpected visitor — who turned out to be one of the defendants: "This man comes out of no where comes to my house ... ," saying he worked with the cemetery, showed monument samples, and allegedly took $2,000 in cash.
In another case, a woman signed a $2,200 contract, and when the "very persistent" man demanded a deposit, she gave him $100 that had been needed to pay her electricity bill.