Crime & Courts

Former longtime funeral director admits to misusing clients’ money

In this 1996 photo, current Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell, right, congratulates David Ward for winning the Republican nomination for Gaston County commissioner from South Point Township. Bell prosecuted Ward this week on seven felonies related to Ward taking money customers had pre-paid for loved ones’ funeral expenses and using it on himself. Ward pled guilty to all of the charges.
In this 1996 photo, current Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell, right, congratulates David Ward for winning the Republican nomination for Gaston County commissioner from South Point Township. Bell prosecuted Ward this week on seven felonies related to Ward taking money customers had pre-paid for loved ones’ funeral expenses and using it on himself. Ward pled guilty to all of the charges. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Former longtime Gaston County commissioner and funeral director David Ward Jr. pleaded guilty to seven felonies this week for taking money customers had prepaid for services at his Gastonia funeral home and spending it on himself.

A judge sentenced Ward, 71, to work release and two years probation, court records show.

Ward was a county commissioner from 1984 to 2000.

The N.C. Board of Funeral Service permanently revoked his funeral license in April, saying he’d mishandled about $90,000, the Gaston Gazette reported.

The board accused Ward of withdrawing more than $24,000 from “pre-need” customer accounts in 2014, according to the Gazette. Customers paid into the accounts before their loved ones’ deaths. The board also accused Ward of failing to deposit another $62,708 into pre-need trust accounts or insurance policies within five days of customers paying him, the newspaper reported.

The board learned of the misappropriations after another funeral home tried to transfer pre-need funeral money of a former customer of Ward and found no funds available, District Attorney Locke Bell said, according to the Gazette. Bell said the mishandling of customers’ money began in 2004 and occurred over several years.

Ward will pay no restitution to his victims because he’s had two houses, three cars and his Ward Funeral Service repossessed, according to the Gazette.

Ward filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in August 2016, court records show. He had no criminal record before being charged with four counts of misapplying pre-need funeral funds and three counts of obtaining property by false pretense, according to records.

“I am very distraught over what I’ve done,” Ward told the judge who took his plea and sentenced him, according to a Gazette video of Ward’s plea. “I apologize to everybody concerned. I tarnished my family’s name. I’ve got a good wife who stuck by me for 47 years, and I disgraced her, and I just feel very ashamed for what I’ve done. I just want to move on.”

Joe Marusak: 704-987-3670, @jmarusak

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