90-year-old woman discovers prepaid funeral money is gone after St. Pete funeral home closes abruptly

Better Call Behnken

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – At age 90, Victoria Hawkins shouldn’t have to worry about her funeral arrangements because she prepaid for her funeral in 2006. However, she recently discovered every penny of the more than $13,000 she paid is gone.

“I thought this was taken care of,” Hawkins said. “I want the money to do what I have to do for when God calls me home.”

Here’s the problem: Zion Hill Mortuary recently closed abruptly, and Hawkins says she was told there was no money for her arrangements.

She turned to Better Call Behnken for help. Investigator Shannon Behnken tracked down former Funeral Director Dwayne E. Matt. He says he’s had “financial hardships.”

“I’ve done everything I could, and I’m still trying to give her her money,” Matt said.

There is supposed to be a safety net. The State of Florida has a trust fund for pre-need policies. When a policy is sold, a portion of the money is supposed to go to the fund. The fund was established by Florida Statute to assist consumers who have purchased a pre-need contract when the seller of the contract cannot fulfill the contract.

However, Better Call Behnken found Matt failed to pay any money in Hawkins’ name.

A spokesman for the state says this situation is under investigation and they are looking into whether Hawkins can be helped by the trust fund since she purchased from a licensed pre-need salesman.

Meanwhile, Matt promises he’ll pay the money back and says his funeral home building is for sale.

“I’m going to pay her every penny,” Matt said, adding, “I am a man of my word.”

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