Pre-paid funerals a factor in Barnett case


Brian Barnett, the owner and former director of the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home at 15 N. William St. in Johnstown responds to a question from Fulton County judge Michael W. Smrtic on Jan. 3, inside the Fulton County Courthouse, as a new indictment was handed down against him.

Court documents and police complaints filed in the multi-count indictment against former funeral home director Brian Barnett reveal more details in the complex case that has garnered attention throughout the Capital Region since the police search of his business last year revealed two decomposing bodies in his garage.

The 37-count Grand Jury indictment filed in Fulton County Court on Jan. 6 alleges Barnett mishandled the remains of at least 17 people named in the indictments, most of whom were cremated individuals not named in the original 16 criminal complaints filed by the Johnstown Police Dept. against Barnett between Jan. 19 and Feb. 15, 2022.

The Grand Jury indictment includes one count of third-degree grand larceny against Barnett, alleging he accepted $37,214 for funeral services he failed to perform, but the criminal complaints filed by the Johnstown Police Dept. only detail $20,115 worth of alleged larceny, of which $8,883.76 are alleged to have been improper receipt of prepayment for funeral services.

Fulton County District Attorney Michael Poulin did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking information regarding the remaining $17,099 worth of funeral services Barnett is alleged to have failed to perform.

This newspaper obtained the police complaints against Barnett after requesting the documents from Fulton County Court. The criminal complaints include these specific larceny allegations:

  • Barnett is alleged to have received $7,500 dollars from Ellen Hart the widow of Thomas Hart, on Aug. 28, 2019, 15 days after Thomas Hart died at the age of 64 on Aug. 13, 2019.

Thomas Hart’s obituary, also published Aug. 28, 2019, states he was traveling outside of the area visiting his grandchildren at the time of the death.

Barnett is not alleged to have filed a false instrument with respect to Thomas Hart’s death certificate, although that allegation is made in connection with other deceased people involved in the case.

The first criminal complaint related to Thomas Hart was filed by Johnstown Police Detective B. Walker on Jan. 19, 2022. Walker alleges Barnett “knowingly gave the family of Thomas A. Hart ashes of another human so that payment for services could be rendered.”

“The defendant received full payment from the victim’s spouse, knowing that the incorrect ashes were provided,” reads the complaint.

Police also allege Barnett claimed Thomas Hart’s body during a time period between July 1, 2019 and Nov. 8, 2019 when Barnett had failed to renew his funeral home registration with New York state.

Police allege Thomas Hart’s body was found in Barnett’s garage in an advanced state of decomposition on Jan. 14, 2022, more than two years after it had arrived at the funeral home business.

  • Barnett is alleged to have accepted $5,000 on Feb. 14, 2019, “that was for the pre need funeral of Donna Holand.”

Police allege Barnett received the payment from the mother of the alleged victim prior to the mother’s death.

“The defendant received full payment from the victim’s mother days prior to her own death; all contrary to the provisions of the statute in such case made and provided,” reads the criminal complaint filed Feb. 10, 2022 by Walker.

The Leader-Herald on Feb. 10, 2019, published an obituary for a Shirley Kimball Holland Nellis, whose funeral was performed by the Ehle and Barnett funeral home, and according to the obituary Shirley Kimball Holland Nellis was the mother of a Donna Holland, resident of Gloversville.

  • Barnett is alleged to have “knowingly withdrew funds from Pre-Need account of Grover E. LaFountain” in the amount of $3,883.76 on Dec. 28, 2021.

“The funds were designated for funeral services upon LaFountain’s death,” reads Walker’s criminal complaint filed Feb. 14, 2022. “The body of Grover E. LaFountain was located within the Ehle-Barnett funeral home on Jan. 14, 2022, although a death certificate stated that he had been cremated on Dec. 23, 2021. The above defendant removed the funds from the account while knowing that the funeral services were not completed, and he was not entitled to remove such funds.”

In the Grand Jury indictments, Barnett is accused of taking possession of LaFountain’s body during a time period while the funeral home’s license was suspended again between November 2021 and January 10, 2022.

  • Barnett is alleged to have stolen $1,231.93 dollars when he received money to pay for a gravestone for the late Anne lvancic. Police allege Barnett was paid the funds from the Guardianship of lvancic by Guardianship custodian Mark D. Frasier, on Oct. 16 2020. “[Barnett] knowingly and intentionally refused to return calls and emails which were made by the victim, and did not provide the gravestone or return the money paid by the victim,” reads the complaint filed by Walker on Feb. 15, 2022.
By Jason Subik

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