JOHNSTOWN — A funeral home where police discovered multiple improperly stored bodies and more than a dozen containers of cremated remains this past weekend was last registered with the state in 2019 and operated for a year without a properly licensed funeral director, according to the state’s Department of Health.
Brian M. Barnett, owner of Ehle and Barnett Family Funeral Home, was cited by the the department, which oversees funeral home operations in the state, last October for failing to register his funeral director’s license in 2020. The licenses are required to be renewed every two years, according to state law.
A subsequent investigation determined the funeral home operated without a properly licensed funeral director for a year, according to the stipulation order handed down last October by the Department of Health.
“After investigation, the Department alleges that Respondents Brian M. Barnett and Ehle and Barnett Family Funeral Home, LLC operated a funeral firm without being under the immediate and personal supervision, direction, management, and control of a licensed funeral director or undertaker registered with the Department since Oct. 29, 2020 until the present,” reads the stipulation order, which was signed by Barnett on Oct. 2, 2021.
The stipulation order shows that Barnett has a history of failing to comply with state laws regulating funeral homes dating back to 2019, when he was fined $1,000 for registering the North William Street funeral home with the state 140 days late. The business remained in operation from July 1, 2019 to Nov. 18, 2019 despite not being properly registered.
It’s not the last time Barnett would fail to properly register the funeral home with the state, according to the stipulation.
He was cited by the state in October for operating an unregistered funeral home from July 1 of last year until the stipulation order was handed down, meaning the last time the funeral home was registered with the state was in 2019.
Barnett was also cited for denying “request of the department to inspect funeral firm records and documents related to the operation of the funeral firm,” according to the stipulation.
“Records were requested pursuant to an investigation of the complaint that was filed last year,” Erin Silk, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said in an email. “As it is still ongoing we will not comment further.”
Barnett was fined $2,500 and his funeral directing license and the certificate of registration for Ehle Barnett Family Funeral Home were suspended for 90 days, according to the order.
Barnett could not be reached for comment on Monday.
A voice message encouraging callers to leave a message says in part: “Due to COVID-19 and some unforeseen health issues, I will not be able to see anyone in the office, per DOH, until Monday at midnight, which is Tuesday Jan. 11. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.”
Johnstown police executed a search warrant of the funeral home last Friday following a Jan. 10 complaint by a family that contracted cremation services but could not get in contact with Barnett for several weeks.
After multiple failed attempts at contacting Barnett, he later reached out to police, notifying them that he still had human remains at the funeral home.
Police retrieved the remains but as the investigation progressed, investigators learned of another deceased person retrieved by Barnett late last year. Death records indicated the person had been cremated but the crematorium listed on the death certificate had no records of the cremation being completed.
Police then obtained the warrant, where they found two more bodies in a garage that were “in advanced states of decomposition.” More than a dozen containers of cremated remains were also discovered, some of which did not have identification tags and were left open, according to police.
The remains were transported to the nearby A.G. Cole Funeral Home.
The identification of human remains is being handled by the Fulton County Coroner’s Office in conjunction with the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Unit.
An investigation into the funeral home remains ongoing and no charges have been filed.
Silk said additional penalties will be decided by the courts, but noted a felony conviction is an automatic revocation of a funeral director’s license.
“Additional penalties or any conviction of a criminal nature would be decided by the courts,” she said. “A felony conviction is an automatic license revocation.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.