AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds of customers who lost thousands of dollars through prepaid funeral contracts with Peel and Son Funeral Home, Inc. will be repaid, following a KXAN investigation into the company’s illegal sale of those contracts.
KXAN first reported on the Peel and Son prepaid contracts in October of 2018. The Texas Department of Banking had opened an investigation into the local funeral home business in August because its owner, Billy F. Peel, was illegally selling prepaid funeral benefit contracts. These actions were illegal because Peel wasn’t licensed to sell prepaid funeral contracts.
Peel collected more than $500,000 in prepaid funeral payments from nearly 250 customers, or about 235 contracts, since 2006, according to the department.
After the funeral home’s records were seized on August 2, 2018, the Department of Banking reported there was only $3,000 left in the account.
On Nov. 6, 2018, the Department of Banking issued a consent order against Peel and Son, requiring repayment to affected customers. On February 28, the department received the full restitution amount of $524,780.38 and it will distribute the money to customers.
The restitution payments were made possible after Charles L. Villaseñor II, president of Mission Funeral Homes, purchased Peel and Son.
“The purchase of Austin Peel and Son Funeral Home provides the financial means to make all due restitution to the Department of Banking and the State of Texas which will, in turn, issue full reimbursements to families who purchased prepaid plans,” Villaseñor said. “I can say with confidence that all of the families who were affected that had contracts with Austin Peel and Son will be made whole.”
The restitution payments will immediately be sent to at least 100 affected Central Texans and they should receive those checks around March 18.
Hazel Bonilla’s mother, Josie, is one of those customers.
“That’s a big relief. Now I can focus on other things,” she said.
After months of uncertainty about her mother’s declining health due to her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Hazel says she didn’t know whether she would be financially prepared for her passing or her funeral. Records obtained by KXAN show Josie prepaid nearly $7,000 for her funeral — including the casket she planned to be buried in.
“Her casket. It’s supposed to say, ‘Beloved Mother’ and ‘Beloved Grandmother,'” Hazel told KXAN in our first interview, crying. “I want her to have what she asked for. That casket meant a lot to her because it was the last thing that we were going to see her in.”
After the investigation launched, Hazel became concerned she wouldn’t be able to provide the casket her mother paid for because her funeral was ultimately, in jeopardy.
On Friday, KXAN Investigator Brittany Glas had the opportunity to tell Hazel the casket her mother wanted is in stock and guaranteed at Mission Funeral Homes.
“Oh my God,” Hazel yelled, continuing to cry.
Villaseñor said he knew Bonilla was very particular about the casket after he saw our KXAN investigation and felt compelled to do what he could to help.
Although the affected families will not be required to work with the funeral home in the future under its new ownership, Villaseñor says he wants to do everything he can to help them.
“Once they receive their refund, then we want them to come in, talk to us, so that we can actually rewrite the policy with insurance-funded protection. I’m here to ensure that we’re going to be committed to these families, from here on out,” he said.
After everything was done — the sale complete — the investigating agency said this was not a “normal” end result.
“We are very pleased. Coming up with half a million dollars, we just weren’t really positive that that was going to happen,” explained Stephanie Newberg, Deputy Commissioner of the Texas Department of Banking. “We’re just really very, very thankful that this was a positive outcome.”
The sale was in jeopardy, too, last month when the DOB revealed it had received credible information that, “Mr. Peel’s emergency health concerns, as well as closing delays in the projected sale of the funeral home” were both to blame for Peel’s failure to pay restitution by the previously agreed upon Feb. 15 deadline.
Over the course of the investigation, KXAN reached out multiple times to Peel for an interview, but, even when we went to see him in person at the funeral home at the end of last year, he refused to speak with us.