CHARLESTON — Members of a state board that oversees funeral directors in West Virginia say they don't agree with how previous board members handled the case of a Putnam County man who cashed in prearranged funeral plans for people who hadn't died. But the new board members say they can't do anything about it.
The West Virginia Board of Funeral Examiners met on July 18 to discuss the impact of the almost 2-year-old criminal conviction of Chad Harding, former owner and president of The Harding Family Group, in Putnam Circuit Court, according to a statement released Friday.
Board members said they disagree with the order that suspended Harding's license for six months and gave him six months of probation. They didn't say what they would have done instead, but said they legally cannot, and therefore do not plan to, take further disciplinary action in Harding's case.
"The current membership of the Board takes this opportunity to memorialize its disagreement with terms of the 'Consent Agreement and Order' entered by the previous membership of the Board," members state in the letter. "However, the current Board understands that, after meeting with counsel, it is legally bound by the 'Consent Agreement and Order' and can take no further disciplinary actions against Mr. Harding based upon his convictions as they stem from the same conduct alleged, and resolved in the [order]."
The letter is signed by all seven members of the board, including Frederick H. Kitchen, president and funeral director of Henson & Kitchen Funeral Home in Milton.
"The Board is firmly committed to regaining the trust of the public and stands ready to fully fulfill its obligation to enforce the West Virginia Funeral Service Examiners Act in the future," board members said in the letter.
The current board members noted that none of them was on the board when the Harding consent agreement and order were reached in July 2017.
The same month the consent agreement and order were entered onto the board's record in 2017, three members of the Board of Funeral Examiners resigned, citing their displeasure with the agreement.
The agreement was entered as a part of the board's case regarding Harding's handling of pre-need funeral contracts.
Harding pleaded guilty to three counts of felony insurance fraud in November 2017, and Putnam Circuit Judge Joseph K. Reeder sentenced him to spend up to 30 years in prison and pay $30,000 in fines and court costs.
The Gazette-Mail on July 3, 2019, sent an inquiry to the Department of Health and Human Resources seeking information about a review the state public health officials launched in August 2017.
That review was launched after the Board of Funeral Examiners entered into the "consent and agreement order" with Harding in July 2017.