BROWARD (CBSMiami) – A South Florida father and son are under fire, accused of shoddy work when handling the remains of the dead.
Joseph Damiano and his son, Anthony Joseph “A.J.” Damiano, run Heritage Cremation Provider and Legacy Funeral Services.
They are web-based businesses that advertise as a “trusted cremation service that is family owned and operated for over two decades.”
They say on their website with a 1-800 number that they offer “compassionate community service close to home.”
Customers, however, say they are led to believe that the cremation services for their loved ones are being handled by a local company.
In reality though, the Damiano’s are subcontracting the work out to local providers. So when family members try to find the local location they discover it’s merely a virtual office with a secretary.
Regulators say the websites are merely a marketing company that collects upfront payments and fees from grieving families and then subcontracts actual services out to local facilities sometimes with troubling results.
It happened to the Koltun family.
Jake Koltun was a 22-year-old student who died in a skiing accident at Breckenridge in Colorado two years ago.
His mother, Lisa Koltun, and her friend, David Williams, called Heritage Cremation Provider thinking they were a local cremation service in Boulder, Colorado that could handle Jake’s remains.
“It was just a nightmare,” said Lisa Koltun.
“I trusted their website,” said Williams. “They state clearly they were a locally owned Boulder family run business.”
But then the mistakes began.
They say first the company misspelled their last name as “Kolton.”
Then they say an invoice had the name William.
On another paper, the bill was for someone with a completely different name, made out to a “Sarah White.”
And on multiple invoices, they say, the company asked for additional fees for an oversize container for Jake’s ashes even though he weighed 165 pounds.
“It’s so dishonest,” said Williams. “It’s the ultimate scam.”
The Koltuns say when they pressed the company to get Jake’s remains, a representative told them they had no idea where Jake’s body was.
They aren’t alone.
The Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado says they processed 10 complaints against Heritage in a 12 month period.
The complaints accuse Heritage of mix-ups, not providing death certificates and holding ashes for ransom.
Families say that when they complained about upcharges the company delayed sending the remains.
It’s not just Colorado.
Heritage and Legacy have been fined in California and Oregon.
And the states of North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida shut down the Damianos for operating a funeral service without a license.
The Damianos have deep and tangled roots in South Florida.
Thirty years ago, Joseph Damiano was dubbed the “Body Baron of Broward County” for the business he built transporting and cremating corpses.
It all changed.
In 2002, Damiano was arrested on charges he ran an illegal crematorium.
He was never convicted.
But he also came under scrutiny and was sued for illegally supplying bodies without the families permission for embalming classes at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
Meanwhile, Damiano’s son was having his own problems with his funeral operations.
In 2001, the state of Florida accused him of fraud.
He pleaded guilty to operating without a license and was banned from the funeral business for 10 years.
But after the ban ended, the duo resurrected themselves on the internet starting Heritage and Legacy.
Reached by telephone about the allegations, A.J. Damiano denied any wrongdoing.
He declined to be interviewed on camera, but maintained that the Koltun problem happened two years ago and there have been no complaints since.
He said with the volume of business they do, mistakes are bound to happen. He also indicated they have no intention of stopping.
“We will continue to do business and serve families,” said A.J. Damiano.
As for the Koltun family, they say after filing their complaint and much pleading, they finally received Jake’s ashes.
But they hope other families don’t have to endure what they went through.
“They are not the most trusted name in any town in the United States,” said Williams.