ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A Better Call Behnken investigation into a funeral home accused of mishandling prepaid arrangements has sparked anger and panic.
Customers who paid for their own funerals through Zion Hill Mortuary are learning that the funeral home and its director had licenses revoked by the state of Florida and shut down.
One woman, Victoria Hawkins, 90, tells Investigator Shannon Behnken that she can’t sleep at night, after learning that the $13,000 she prepaid for her funeral 13 years ago is gone. The grave plot she paid for through the funeral home was never reserved in her name.
“I can’t believe this is happening at my age,” Hawkins said.
Dwayne E. Matt, the former funeral director, failed to even send money to a state trust fund in Hawkins’ name, as required by state law.
Matt told Better Call Behnken that he had “financial difficulties” and that he would pay Hawkins back and that she was the only one he owed money to.
Well, state records tell a different story, particularly when it comes to grave spots.
In one case, investigators wrote to a family: “payment was not received from Mr. Matt for the space sold to your father, for which he paid in full. The space was then sold to someone else by Mr. Matt.”
In response to this claim, Matt himself wrote this to the state:
“Please charge my head and not my heart, because I would never intentionally design a plan of destruction.”
A Woodlawn spokesperson sent this statement.
“Woodlawn Memory Gardens has previously sold burial plots to Zion Hill Mortuary in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Zion Hill Mortuary is run exclusively by Dwayne Matt and is a separate and unaffiliated business. The contract for the plot and burial is between Ms. Hawkins and Zion Hill Mortuary – not with Woodlawn Memory Gardens. We have no record of a burial plot for Victoria Hawkins at Woodlawn but in learning about this issue today, we will work with the family and the authorities to find out more. If there are additional cases, we will also work with the families involved on a case-by-case basis. As with all families we serve, we will ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.”
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