A case filed a year ago against former Cache County funeral home owners accused of mishandling over $772,000 may be moving forward.
Lonnie Kent Nyman, 46, and Kent Lloyd Nyman, 73, appeared in 1st District Court on Wednesday for a conference regarding the status of an in-person preliminary hearing in the case. Currently, Cache County is in a “red” phase, indefinitely suspending in-person hearings and jury trials without exigent circumstances as a result of the pandemic. A preliminary hearing for the Nymans has twice been cancelled due to issues unrelated to COVID-19, according to documents filed with the court.
During the conference on Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Holtan told the court the need for an in-person hearing stemmed from a high number of victims and exhibits — 111 and 120, respectively. Holtan expressed his desire to proceed with the case despite the court’s current color phase status.
“We have victims that are dying while this case is pending,” Holtan told the court. “I really want to see this move forward.”
Defense attorney Scott Williams told the court an in-person preliminary hearing was still desired. Williams said, however, if the hearing was to be executed “on paper,” it would likely change the defense’s strategy. For Williams, defendants as well as victims are being affected by COVID-19 restrictions on the courts.
“Defendants all across the state are suffering the abridgment of the right to a speedy trial,” Williams said. “Rights are being abridged by the pandemic — I hate to see them only go one way.”
Judge Angela Fonnesbeck said she would not make the finding of exigent circumstance during the hearing. However, with the sheer volume of exhibits and victims in the case, Fonnesbeck said she “very easily could make such a finding” and was inclined to do so.
“I understand that there are still some logistics,” Fonnesbeck said. “And certainly we would still be limited in the number of people we could have in a courtroom.”
Fonnesbeck said 24 people would be allowed in her courtroom; that number would include attorneys, bailiffs and any necessary courtroom staff. Other witnesses could be placed in other courtrooms or other locations to ensure proper social distancing, Fonnesbeck said.
“This is one of those cases that this court feels is critical to move forward in a more expedited fashion,” Fonnesbeck said.
Fonnesbeck set the Nymans to appear again on Feb. 2, in the meantime requiring the prosecution and the defense to have conversations regarding how to safely move the case forward under the circumstances.
Charges were filed against the Nymans on Jan. 16, 2020, after over a year of investigation by the Logan City Police and the Utah Department of Professional Licensing.
An affidavit filed with the court states an alleged victim contacted police regarding a pre-need funeral arrangement purchased through the Nyman Funeral Home. While attempting to transfer the single-pay trust, the client discovered the funds had been deposited with a bank that does not provide trust accounts, as required by state law.
Police wrote the funeral home had sold pre-need arrangements to 111 clients, amassing a value of over $772,000, but none of the funds had been placed into a trust account.
The funds were instead deposited in an account resembling a general-use fund. Financial statements revealed, according to police, that the funds were used for both the general operation of the funeral home and for personal expenses.
“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 Nyman,” police wrote.
All but 11 of the alleged victims were over the age of 65 when they purchased the pre-need arrangements, police wrote.
During the investigation the funeral home was placed on probation during a Utah Department of Commerce Funeral Services Licensing Board meeting in August 2019. Instead of revoking the establishment license completely, the board allowed for probation in hopes the funeral home could make good a portion of the pre-need arrangements sold. The funeral home surrendered its establishment license nearly a month later, according to the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing website.
Lonnie faces five second-degree felonies: pattern of unlawful activity, unlawful dealing with property by a fiduciary, communications fraud, theft by deception and financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He is currently serving a sentence in the Utah State Prison for an unrelated conviction.
Kent faces three second-degree felonies: pattern of unlawful activity, unlawful dealing with property by a fiduciary and communications fraud.