Two former owners of the Nyman Funeral Home appeared in 1st District Court for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, where a judge found probable cause for the charges leveled against them.
Lonnie Kent Nyman, who appeared via video call from the Utah State Prison, faces five second-degree felonies: pattern of unlawful activity, unlawful dealing by a fiduciary, communications fraud, theft by deception, and financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
Kent Lloyd Nyman, who appeared in person for the proceeding, faces three second-degree felonies: pattern of unlawful activity, unlawful dealing by a fiduciary and communications fraud.
Lonnie and Kent each entered pleas of not guilty to the charges and were set to appear for a status conference on June 1 as jury trials in the 1st District are still postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Prosecutors allege the Nymans mishandled over $700,000 in trust funds paid by over 100 alleged victims for pre-need funeral arrangements.
A Logan City Police detective testified that he and the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing both had investigated the funeral home. The pre-need funds, instead of being placed in a trust account, wound up being used for standard business procedures and apparent personal purchases.
According to testimony, Lonnie made statements to investigators that the trusts had been handed off to insurance companies and funds had been placed in an investment account. It was also stated that some alleged victims were under the impression the funds were in a trust account that had been seized by the state.
“No funds have been seized,” the detective told the court, explaining that there were no actual funds to seize.
Defense counsel argued that while it was “easy to show” that money hadn’t been placed in a trust account, there was “no evidence at all” that Kent had any knowledge of how the money was being handled, and inferences to the contrary were “lacking.”
It was argued that checks intended for a trust account don’t have to be deposited for 35 days and neither Kent nor Lonnie had full understanding of their duties as a fiduciary.
Prior to binding over both Nymans on all counts, Judge Angela Fonnesbeck spoke to the voluminous victim impact statements, bank records, copies of contracts and other exhibits submitted to the court. Fonnesbeck also explained the burden of proof and a judge’s obligation to view the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution during a preliminary hearing.
“This is a very low burden,” Fonnesbeck said.
After the bind over, both Nymans entered pleas of not guilty and were set to appear before the court again on June 1 to check the status of jury trials in the 1st District.