On Thursday, new felony charges were filed in 1st District Court against owners of a Providence funeral home, backing up anxieties some former customers have been voicing for months.
Lonnie Kent Nyman is accused of five second-degree felonies in activities related to Nyman Funeral Home: communications fraud, pattern of unlawful activity, unlawful dealing with property by a fiduciary, theft by deception and financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Kent Nyman, Lonnie’s father, is accused of three second-degree felonies: communications fraud, pattern of unlawful activity and unlawful dealing with property by a fiduciary.
The charges stem from the sale of pre-need funeral service arrangements and the alleged mishandling of those funds. According to a probable cause statement, from August 2014 to December 2018, the Nyman Funeral Home received over $772,000 from 111 clients. All but 11 of the clients were over the age of 65, police wrote.
“None of these funds were placed in trust accounts as required by law,” police wrote.
According to the statement, the funds were placed into accounts with Lewiston State Bank and Bank of Utah, which served as operating accounts for the funeral home. But, police alleged, the funds were also used for personal expenses for both Lonnie and Kent.
“Records showed purchases at fast food restaurants, sporting goods stores, as well as payments toward the personal credit card accounts of both Lonnie and Kent,” police wrote.
Kent allegedly told police during the investigation his primary responsibility was selling and contracting the pre-need service arrangements. Lonnie would then deposit the payments into the operating account.
According to police, Lonnie made multiple statements about the whereabouts of the money — at one point claiming the funds were in an investment account.
“To date, no information regarding the existence of this account has been provided or found,” Police wrote. “Rather, all records reflect client pre-need trust payments were deposited into the Nyman Funeral Home operating account.”
At the time of the investigation, the operating account held less than $1,000, police wrote.
On Aug. 21, nine days after Lonnie had been sentenced to prison for unrelated felonies, the Utah Department of Commerce Funeral Services Licensing Board discussed the matter of the missing of the missing trusts in a public meeting. During the meeting, DOPL investigator Cory Snodgrass said 200 pre-need files were seized by the Logan City Police Department for their investigation. Around 80 of the files were paid for through insurance, ultimately protecting the purchasers’ money and allowing the client to get services from another funeral home.
At the time of the meeting, the board voted to revoke Lonnie’s funeral director’s license and place the funeral home on probation. On probation, the business could attempt to make good on the pre-need arrangements they sold.
On Sept. 27, the funeral home’s establishment license was surrendered, according to the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing website, and the funeral home was effectively closed. A phone number for Sunset Valley Mortuary was attached to the front door, and sometime thereafter the building was listed for sale.
In an interview with The Herald Journal, Gary Knighton of Providence said his mother-in-law, 91, purchased pre-need funeral service arrangements from the Nymans in 2016.
Knighton said his mother-in-law knew of Kent from dances in the community where he was a square dance caller. Knighton’s mother-in-law was was subsequently approached and sold a pre-need service arrangement. According to a copy of the check provided to the newspaper by Knighton, she wrote a check to the Nyman Funeral Home for nearly $8,500.
“She thought she’d bought an insurance policy,” Knighton said.
But, it wasn’t an insurance policy — it was supposed to be a trust, according to a copy of the contract.
“Provider shall promptly deposit one hundred percent (100%) of all funds received from Buyer including finance charges or late charges,” the contract states, “into a trust account with [Provider’s designated trustee], a Utah financial institution authorized to engage in the trust business.”
Once details about Lonnie’s prior crimes had been published and charges were filed, Knighton’s mother-in-law became concerned about her money. In December of 2018, after becoming concerned there was no trust account in place, Knighton reached out to the Logan City Police Department regarding what had happened and what they should do.
“We were concerned that, with all the legal things going on, Lonnie was going to go to jail and we’d be out the money,” Knighton said.
Knighton said if only the authorities had acted faster, his mother-in-law may have gotten the money back.
“My concern is just for my mother-in-law’s welfare,” Knighton said. “We’ve kind of come to the realization the money is gone.”
Michelle Marshall, 61, of Millcreek, had a similar experience.
Marshall said her mother, being friends with the Nymans, purchased pre-need arrangements from Nyman Funeral Home in 2017.
“She specifically asked, ‘What happens if you guys go under?’” Marshall said in an interview with The Herald Journal. “And he specifically explained to her all about the trust and how it would be safe.”
According to contracts and statements provided by Marshall, her mother paid in full for pre-need arrangements. State law would require the money be placed in a trust account. After learning about Lonnie’s arrest, attempting to transfer her mother’s trust and realizing there wasn’t money to transfer, she went to the police.
Now, Marshall said the experience has made her wary during a new family conversation about purchasing another pre-need funeral service arrangement.
“I’m like, ‘no,’” Marshall said. “‘I’ll just pay for your funeral when you die.’”
Marshall said she and her mother know the money is gone, and luckily additional funeral costs won’t ruin her family financially. For Marshall, there is concern regarding how much Kent knew, and a willingness to not be resentful towards him, but she hopes justice is served for the elderly victims.
“This wasn’t just normal theft or fraud. Victims like my mother entrusted this guy with their final arrangements. I consider that to be an almost sacred duty. And now these victims, most undoubtedly senior citizens, are panicked trying to figure out how they are going to recoup that money or face paying again. This is at a time in their life when some cannot come up with that money again,” Marshall wrote in an email. “I hope the Nyman’s someday understand what a low blow they dealt to the people they wronged.”
For Knighton, though he would have liked it to have happen sooner, he’s relieved that charges have been filed.
“I’m glad to see something finally happening,” Knighton said.