Funeral home owner misses restitution deadline; prepaid customers in limbo

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Seven months after the Texas Department of Banking launched an investigation into well-known business Austin Peel and Son Funeral Home, Inc., hundreds of Central Texas families continue questioning whether they will get their money back after a state deadline to pay the families restitution passed on Feb. 15. 

The Texas Department of Banking launched an investigation into Peel and Son in August for illegally selling prepaid funeral benefit contracts. The department said then that the funeral home illegally collected more than $500,000 in prepaid funeral payments from nearly 250 customers, or about 235 contracts, since 2006. These actions were illegal because the owner, Billy F. Peel, wasn’t licensed to sell prepaid funeral contracts.

After the funeral home’s records were seized on August 2, the Department of Banking reported there was only $3,000 left in the account.

Peel entered into an agreement with the Department of Banking in November regarding restitution and penalties. In that consent order, the DOB determined that $524,780.38 of restitution must be paid.

However, in the latest release put out by the DOB, the state agency wrote that it has received credible information that, “Mr. Peel’s emergency health concerns, as well as closing delays in the projected sale of the funeral home” are both to blame for Peel’s failure to pay restitution by the previously agreed upon deadline. 

The attorney for the funeral home has represented to the department that Peel will use the money from the sale of the business to pay the restitution and that the sale is “projected to close” by the end of the month.

We revisited one of the families affected by the DOB investigation. 

Hazel Bonilla says she’s constantly living with the uncertainty of whether her mother’s funeral will be paid for when she passes away. She says the update in November regarding the February restitution deadline gave her hope. 

“I was really excited. I told some of my friends, ‘Oh, I think we’re going to okay,'” she explained.

After Peel missed the deadline however, now Bonilla says she’s becoming more realistic about the situation and what needs to be done.

“It’s very difficult to know what you’re going to do initially when you get that bad news, and it’s going to be bad,” Bonilla said. I do think about what’s going to be the next step, what’s going to be the first thing I’m going to do the day I find out she’s not going to get her money back?” 

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 and refused to give us his attorney’s name and contact information. Minutes after we left the business last month, he drove away.

On Monday, KXAN called the funeral home to attempt to receive a comment about the sale of the funeral home from Peel. We were told he was with a family and someone would pass along our information to him. Unfortunately, at last report, our call has yet to be returned. 

If you have questions about this investigation and want to speak with the Department of Banking, you can call their consumer line: (877)276-5554.

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