CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) – Losing a loved one is never easy but imagine being suddenly charged double or a funeral home refusing to give you your family member’s ashes. It’s a reality for some consumers across the country and here in Ohio.
The company claims to be a family-owned cremation service close to home. On their website, they say they’re located in Cleveland, Lorain, Rittman, and Medina but 19 Investigates discovered that the business is not located in Ohio at all.
Andrea Healy’s mom had been in hospice for about a month, and she knew her mother didn’t have much time left. So, she started searching online for local funeral homes.
“We decided we were looking for someplace closer that could get there faster in a time of need, and it stated Rittman on the Legacy website, so we assumed alright they’re close,” Healy said.
She called Legacy Cremation Services and agreed to pay $995 for her mom to be cremated. She even sent over the paperwork in advance. When her mother passed the next night, the company told her they had lost her paperwork.
“I asked them to verify what their address was, and they said that they were no longer in Rittman so from there I said where is my mother going from there and they said to Cleveland, and I said Cleveland? That’s not what I planned on Cleveland,” Healy said. “They told me the price was now double after my mom passed that in order for them to come pick her up, I’d have to prepay everything.”
Then they told Healy and her daughter Jennifer Farver, that they couldn’t pick her mother up until the next morning.
“We were starting to feel this breakdown in trust but also felt like we had very little options at this point because it was getting later in the evening by the time she had passed and we were going through our own steps of grieving,” Farver said.
The Medina family knew something wasn’t right.
“The girl didn’t seem to know the name of the facility where my mother was going to just that I’m meeting a guy on 117th Street in some alley somewhere as far as I was, I didn’t know where I was going and it just seemed pretty shady,” Healy recalled. “Then they said that my mother was being stored in a storage warehouse garage at that point, I said you’re storing my mother in a garage?”
Thankfully, they realized in time and went with another funeral home.
“I’m very grateful,” said Healy. “I just felt scammed right off the bat.”
Sue McConnell, with the Cleveland Better Business Bureau, said they’ve received several complaints about Legacy Cremation Services.
“The kinds of complaints we’re getting from consumers are very serious,” McConnell said. “The fact that they’re representing themselves as being local, that they are quoting one price, and when the services are completed, the price that they say you have to pay is much higher.”
One woman from Stow said the company’s owner would not release her brother’s remains unless she paid 495 dollars more than the original quote.
She wrote, “The company did a ‘bait and switch’ as well as held the cremains of my late brother’s body as ransom unless I paid what he demanded.”
“Oh, it just breaks my heart, it just makes my head spin,” said Healy. “I can’t believe that they would hold someone’s loved one’s ashes hostage like that.”
A 19 Investigation revealed that although Legacy’s website makes it look like they’re local, they’re not. Their last known location was in Colorado.
19 discovered the company collects payment upfront from grieving families and then subcontracts the cremation services to local businesses. Investigators say that’s led to a lot of problems including sudden hikes in prices, mix-ups, not providing death certificates, and in some cases holding family member’s remains until they pay a higher price.
In 2022 the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission sued Legacy Cremation Services and its owner AJ Damiano. The lawsuit was settled in 2023. The company was required to pay a penalty of $275,000 and to follow a strict set of rules.
“I mean how are they getting away with this?” Healy asked.
In 2023, the DOJ and FTC ordered Legacy and its owner Anthony “AJ” Damiano to disclose their physical location on their website, provide a price list online, and disclose upfront if their goods or services would be provided by a third-party company.
“Do you feel like the company misrepresented themselves?” 19 Investigator Kelly Kennedy asked Farver. “Do you feel like they made it seem like they were local, and they didn’t indicate that they were using any third parties?”
“Absolutely,” Farver said. “I had no idea third parties were involved at all. I think as soon as the address situation came up that was the first red flag. It didn’t sound like they had the information at their fingertips which started to set off some alarm bells.”
19 Investigates spoke with Rebecca Plett an attorney with the FTC.
“Legacy was misrepresenting their location to holding itself out to be a local funeral home when in reality it did not own or operate any funeral homes and then we also alleged that Legacy in some instances was withholding cremated remains from people as a way to get people to pay the higher prices that people previously didn’t know about so we alleged that that was unfair,” said Plett, Attorney with the Division of Marketing Practices in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at FTC.
“It says it’s a family-owned, close-to-home funeral home and there’s nothing about third parties on there. Is that going against the ruling?” Kennedy asked Plett.
“So, I can’t comment on their current conduct,” Plett said.
The funeral business was a family business for the Damianos. It started in South Florida with Joseph Damiano and his son AJ Damiano.
In 2002 Joseph was sued for illegally providing bodies for embalming classes at Lynn University in Florida without the family’s permission.
His son AJ was accused of fraud in Florida in 2001. AJ pleaded guilty to operating without a license and Florida banned him from the funeral business for a decade.
Then the family took their business online, setting up websites for Heritage Cremation Provider and Legacy Cremation Services.
“They need to be shut down; this needs to go nationwide,” said Healy.
I discovered Damiano Senior has since passed but his son is still running the business.
“That’s who I was speaking with that said their name was AJ,” Healy said.
This company has been fined in California and Oregon, and in Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina, they’ve been banned from operating completely.
McConnell hopes some action will be taken against the company in Ohio.
“I mean, if this company is providing very poor service, and there are complaints that are racking up, and they have all these issues elsewhere, it certainly could be something that and law enforcement agencies should take a closer look at,” McConnell said.
Kennedy called Damiano.
The person who answered the phone claimed their name was John. He wouldn’t tell us his last name and became very defensive. He claimed all the accusations were false. Then he hung up the phone.
19 also reached out to the DOJ, they told us they could not comment on this matter.
If you believe you may have been a victim of this company – report it to the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
Copyright 2024 WOIO. All rights reserved.
Police identify body found at Rocky River Park
ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (WOIO) – Rocky River Police identified the body found washed up at a beach at Rocky River Park Saturday.
Police say the recovered body was 57-year-old George T. Zeilmann of North Royalton.
Police identified the body on Wednesday and say Zeilmann had been missing since December 19, 2023.
North Royalton Police are handling the investigation into the death.
A woman found Zeilmann’s body washed up on Rocky River Beach on the 20200 block of Beach Cliff Blvd Saturday morning.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office took custody of the body on the scene, according to a release.
Rocky River Park was closed temporarily but reopened around 2 p.m.
This is a developing story. Return to 19 News for updates
Copyright 2024 WOIO. All rights reserved.
Ohio City Inc., Placing Bet on Local Retail, Buys City Goods
The seven U-shaped, silver hangers at 1442 West 28th Street aren’t going anywhere, but they are changing hands.
This week, Ohio City Inc. finalized a deal to purchase City Goods, the cluster of 30 small businesses selling everything from organic skincare products to hanging plants and vinyl records.
The move, eighteen months after co-founders Sam Friedman and Liz Painter opened shop, follows the duo’s decision to convert City Goods into a nonprofit, believing the model would keep the operation more financially healthy.
A sale to OCI, Friedman said on Tuesday, furthers City Good’s permanency in a growing neighborhood endlessly begging for stores selling home goods without Big Box affiliation.
“We need money. That’s the simple fact of the matter,” Friedman said.
It’s why, he and Painter began conversations with Chris Schmitt, OCI’s executive director, the day after Christmas, as a path to nonprofit status began to look ideal: to ensure that City Good could, unlike most retail clusters, keep its ease-of-entry philosophy intact.
“What [the sale] does is keep City Goods going strong in the future in ways I couldn’t guarantee,” Friedman, also the owner of Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve, said. “It moves it into the public square in the way that we were attempting to do anyway.”
In 2022, after reading a Scene article highlighting entrepreneur Graham Veysey’s build of seven silver “pod” structures near Church + State, Friedman’s interest piqued. After a decade in retail, he felt the need to start a small business cluster with a model that favored new talent. Everything besides one’s rent—marketing, taxes, signage, maintenance, workers comp—is handled by City Goods management.
The only problem, for Painter and Friedman, is that model didn’t prove to be wholly sustainable: City Goods as an entity did not turn a profit. As a financial backstop, Friedman opened Hangar, an upscale cocktail and amaro bar that would ideally earn enough to allow other tenants affordable operational costs. Or, as Friedman, who also bartended once a week at Hangar, put it: “We’re having espresso martinis with you to support makers.”
Schmitt was, of course, one of those patrons.
After taking over for former OCI director Tom McNair in October, Schmitt quickly realized that Ohio City’s ground-floor retail, its contemporary breakfast mainstays and variety stores, was paramount to keeping the neighborhood on a healthy trajectory.
McNair had helped decrease retail vacancies from 40 percent in 2014 to a laudable five percent in 2019, and observed as three years of the pandemic threatened the health of occupied storefronts. Absorbing City Goods into one of OCI’s “seven subsidiaries,” Schmitt told Scene, was key in keeping the bespoke goods—home goods, especially—Ohio City could maintain.
“This is a long term investment,” Schmitt told Scene, from a table at Lekko Coffee on Detroit Avenue. (Schmitt and Friedman declined to talk purchase price.) “A long-range investment by us, to create the brands of tomorrow. They’re going to fill the vacant storefronts.”
“Brands,” Painter said, sitting next to Schmitt, “that have that goal to shift and move to their own space eventually.”
As for the brands, for ilthy or Brittany’s Record Shop, Friedman said that “almost all” of City Goods’ vendors are renewing their leases this year, while others look to bigger spaces or will disband altogether.
Ohio City Inc.’s accumulation of those seven arched domes comes at a time when the City of Cleveland investigates whether or not to close a sliver of West 29th Street, a block away, to car traffic. Though OCI is so far neutral on the issue (Schmitt wants to “wait until a study comes out”), Friedman believes that City Goods’ location on the eastern fringe of Hingetown will keep it as a destination for years to come.
“Walkability is why City Goods is where it is,” he said. “Because small business retail, the one thing it requires—Requires with a capital R—is walking traffic.”
Friedman and Painter will stay involved with City Goods in some form: Friedman as an advisor to OCI, Painter as brand manager and an OCI marketing director. As for regulars scoring a Friedman-made cocktail on Friday night’s at Hangar, the co-founder is most likely out as its Sam Malone.
“Hey, every night I banged the glass, I yelled about the shops, I talked to every single person who comes in about why we’re here,” Friedman said. “But breaking news: Sam doesn’t like breaking his back.”
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Plane lands safely Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, after pilot reports smoke in the cockpit
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) – A plane made an emergency landing at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Wednesday morning after smoke was reported in the cockpit.
The emergency happened around 8:30 a.m. and the plane landed safely minutes later.
There were reported to be 29 people on board.
19 News has reached out for additional information.
Copyright 2024 WOIO. All rights reserved.
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