Funeral home owner sentenced for fraud after falsely reporting hundreds of deaths

PUTNAM COUNTY, WV (WOWK) - UPDATE: February 8th, 2018 5:47 P.M.

Chad Harding was sentenced in court today after pleading guilty to 3 felony fraud charges for falsely reported the deaths of over 100 people and collecting money for their pre-need funerals. 

Harding was sentenced to serve 1-10 years in jail for each charge, which will run consecutively. 

Harding is the owner of Gatens-Harding Funeral Home in Poca, WV.

The fraud took place between September 2012 and April 2015.

UPDATE: September 17th, 2015 3:30 P.M.

On September 16th, Gatens-Harding Funeral Home in Poca, WV was raided by the West Virginia Offices of the Insurance Commissioner and officers with the West Virginia State Police.

"It's such a small town, we never thought to hear anything like that," said Angela Raines of Poca, WV. 

State officials couldn't specify what documents were seized from the business, but they did confirm that it was in relation to the federal lawsuit between the Harding Family and Homesteaders Life Company.

Chad and Billie Harding are accused of falsely reporting the deaths of over 100 people and collecting money from their pre-need funeral plans. 

"I didn't know what to think. It's not something you would expect from them, it's not something you would expect from anyone actually," said Daniel Terpening of Poca, WV.

The business is still providing services to the public, but they did not wish to make a comment about the federal lawsuit or the raid.

Attorneys from Spilman, Thomas, and Battle are representing Homesteaders Life Company in the case, and they say the Harding's did respond to their complaint last week.

"Like in all cases of this nature they denied any wrongdoing, so we are ready to proceed with our case," said Alex Macia, an attorney with Spilman, Thomas, and Battle. 

As news about the federal lawsuit continues to shock the citizens of Poca, WV many are wondering what will happen to the town since one of it's top businesses is facing public scrutiny. 

"That is a huge asset to this town and if they have this trouble and they go out, what's the town going to do?" said Angela Raines.

An official trail date has not been set for the case, stay with 13 News for the latest details. 

ORIGINAL: 

Homesteaders Life Company, an Iowa-based business, filed a complaint in the Southern District of West Virginia against Gatens-Harding Funeral Home in Poca, WV.

The insurance company claims that Gatens-Harding Funeral home claimed over $900,000 in pre-need funeral costs for customers that are still living.

When news about the alleged scam hit the small town of Poca, people were appalled. 

"I can't believe that somebody would claim that someone was passed away and they're still living, just to get money." said Searra Halstead of Poca, WV. 

Pre-need funeral services are sold by funeral homes as part of group life insurance plans. Upon the passing of plan holders, the insurance company will pay to cover their funeral expenses. 

Chad Harding and his wife Billie, the owners of Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, are accused of falsely signing off on the deaths of their customers and collecting over $900,000 from Homesteaders Life Company in the last 10 years. 

Spilman Thomas & Battle, a local law firm, is representing the insurance company in the case.

"We represent Homesteaders Life Company in connection with this law suit. Unfortunately at this time we cannot give you and comments to the particulars in the complaint." said Alexander Macia, a lawyer with the firm. 

According to the 45 page complaint, only 14 of the 111 people the funeral home claimed were dead are actually deceased and their deaths were also reported prematurely.

Gatens-Harding Funeral Home officials did not wish to comment about the situation, but they did publish a post on their public Facebook page saying that if they did owe any money, it would be paid in full.

Most living in Poca, WV say they know the Harding family well and will wait until a final decision is made in court before they form their opinions. 

"I don't think he did it, but you know you have to wait until the gavel drops and the judge says guilty." said George Woodrum of Putnam County, WV. 

If you have a pre-need plan with Gatens-Harding Funeral home and have questions about your account, please call 1-800-477-3633 to speak with customer service at Homesteaders Life Company.


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