State seeks to revoke licenses for Perry Funeral Home

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Detroit police officers use crime scene tape to cordon off an area while they execute a search warrant at Perry Funeral Home in Detroit on Oct. 19.

Detroit — The state is seeking to revoke licenses for the Perry Funeral Home following an investigation that officials say uncovered "disrespectful and improper" storage of dozens of fetal remains and fraudulent filing of death certificates.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs on Friday said it has completed its administrative investigation into the Detroit funeral home and its designated manager, Gary Deak, stemming from an October inspection and shutdown of the facility tied to multiple violations of state law and occupational code.

The department summarily suspended the mortuary science licenses in October after regulators found violations "resulting in an imminent threat to public safety."

The administrative investigation has resulted in a formal complaint against the funeral home and Deak.

“Our investigation found numerous acts of gross negligence, incompetence, fraud and deceit in the practice of mortuary science,” LARA Director Orlene Hawks said in a statement Friday. “We will continue to enforce state laws to protect our residents from bad actors who deceive the public and also tarnish the funeral home industry as a whole.”  

Perry Funeral Home issued a statement saying it had received the complaint and is reviewing the allegations.

"We are confident that our response to the allegations will establish that Perry complied with all applicable laws to the very best of their abilities and that a full analysis of those
allegations will show that any issues or problems lie within the system to receive authorization to bury and/or cremate unclaimed bodies, and are not attributable to Perry," spokesman Tom Shields said in the statement.

"On the contrary, Perry Funeral Home acted at all times to provide respectful services and show dignity to the remains of those unclaimed individuals that came into their care."

The funeral home on Trumbull Avenue was shut down by the state in October. 

Regulators found 63 infant and fetal remains on the premises. Of those, 54 of the remains were kept without express authorization to do so by a relative or custodian. 

In addition, 39 of the remains arrived at the funeral home more than 180 days and seven of the remains arrived at the facility more than 60 days before the Oct. 19 inspection, in violation of the Michigan Penal Code, according to the state.

The funeral home also represented on 42 death certificates that it filed with the state Department of Health and Human Services that the bodies were buried at Knollwood Cemetery in Canton Township or stored at Gethsemane Cemetery in Detroit "when Perry knew that the bodies were all stored in cardboard boxes or a freezer in the basement of its facility in Detroit."

The formal complaint filed Thursday notes a chest freezer in the basement that contained the remains of deceased infants or fetuses within three separate cardboard boxes. In the same room, other plastic containers with infant or fetal remains were found in cardboard boxes. In the same room, a binder labeled "Baby & Fetus Log," was found, identifying some but not all of the remains. 

The dates of death ranged from October 2012 to October 2018.

The funeral home also failed to certify and file death certificates for the fetuses and infants within 72 hours of death. The certificates were not filed for over a year, and in some cases, over three years, the state found.

The remains were stored in a "disrespectful and callous manner in the basement" and the funeral home used a casket that had previously been used in connection with the burial or other disposition of a dead human body, the state said.

The funeral home also obtained State Emergency Relief benefits to supervise the final disposition of at least three dead infants and fetuses and failing to achieve their final disposition.

The state found that Perry charged for services and disposal of the remains that it received from a hospital where the hospital did not comply with state law by first inquiring with those who had authority over the disposal of the remains. 

The state further concluded there were gross negligence and incompetence, fraud, deceit and dishonesty in the practice of mortuary science.

In January, a police task force removed 26 fetuses from a Detroit Medical Center morgue, all of which had allegedly been mishandled by Perry Funeral Home.

The revelation was part of a wide-ranging investigation into funeral homes' disposition of infant and fetal remains. 

The probe started in October when Detroit police and state inspectors discovered 11 infant and fetal remains stored in a false ceiling at Detroit's Cantrell Funeral Home after receiving a letter that also alleged fraud at that funeral home.

When a man who was suing Perry and others for allegedly mishandling his daughter's remains saw news coverage of the Cantrell discovery, his attorneys alerted Detroit police. Police met with the attorneys and then expanded their investigation to include Perry. 

The state on Friday said from here it will use its formal complaint and findings to seek the license revocations for Perry. 

The funeral home and Deak have the opportunity to demonstrate compliance with the law or engage in settlement negotiations.

With respect to the respondents’ mortuary science licenses, the Board of Examiners in Mortuary Science determines the appropriate penalties upon review of a Hearing Report finding violations of the administrative law.

"LARA’s goal in taking the present actions is to ensure that this home and individual are never licensed in the funeral home industry again," the state said.

The state's findings have been shared with the funeral home, Detroit police and Michigan State Police.