WINFIELD, W.Va. — A Putnam County funeral director is headed to prison after he fraudulently cashed in pre-need funeral contracts on customers who weren’t dead.
Putnam County Circuit Judge Joe Reeder on Thursday gave Chad Harding three sentences of 1 to 10 years in prison, all to be served consecutively (3-30) for fraud. Harding, owner of Gatens-Harding Funeral Home in Poca, cashed in 108 pre-paid funeral contracts written by the Homestead Insurance Group. However, none of those people covered by the contracts were dead.
“Some elderly folks thought they had their funeral taken care of and found out that Chad Harding basically told the insurance company they were dead when they weren’t,” said Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia. “It really shook them up.”
Harding pleaded guilty to lesser charges in hopes of receiving a lesser sentence. He broke down in tears during his sentencing in a Winfield courtroom claiming he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he was in so deep he had no choice but to continues. He apologized for his action.
The courtroom was packed with friends and supporters who spoke to Harding’s character and asked the judge for a light sentencing on Harding’s behalf.
“I understand all of that and the pain people go through when a friend is in trouble,” said Sorsaia. “The bottom line to that is all of the pain those people are suffering is a direct result of his behavior.”
Sorsaia argued the court had no choice but to give Harding some time behind bars.
“We’re talking about $904,000 in fraudulent claims,” Sorsaia explained. “What message would it send to the public that someone could steal $900,000 and not go to the penitentiary. I’ve seen people go to the penitentiary for a lot less.”
Homestead Insurance agreed to honor the policies which Harding had cashed in and customers who had paid for a pre-paid funeral will still receive whatever production they are owed.
Harding was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and his sentence began immediately at the conclusion of the hearing.