Former SF funeral home operators accused of pocketing payments 

Seven Bayview District families are out $30,000 after a funeral home took their prepayments for funeral expenses and then closed up shop without paying them back, prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said the owner of Funerals by Washington at 1641 La Salle Ave. has been arrested, and another former employee is still being sought. The business closed in January 2009.

“These are individuals that were predators,” Gascon said. “They were taking advantage of our community. They were taking advantage of people that often do not have a lot of discretionary funding.”

It’s unclear exactly how the funeral-home operators spent the money they allegedly pocketed from the victims.  “Some of the expenses appeared to just go into the business … and other things we do have some theories on, but [they are] not conclusive,” said prosecutor Evan Ackiron.

By law, “preneed” funeral expense payments must be placed in trust accounts and cannot be used for the business’ operating expenses.

The case came to light in 2008, when one of the seven alleged victims died and the family came to the funeral home expecting the arrangements to have been made, Ackiron said.

“The business said, ‘We can’t find the paperwork. We can’t take care of you right now, so go have your funeral somewhere else and we’ll reimburse you,’” Ackiron said. The family did just that, he said, and then returned and asked to be reimbursed.

“They were put off, and then the funeral home went out of business, and that money’s gone,” Ackiron said.

Six other alleged victims, who made payments as far back as 2004, were later uncovered.

Funerals by Washington owner Derek Washington, 38, of Oakland, surrendered to authorities last Wednesday. His employee, Donald Rollins, 56, of Fairfield, is still being sought.

Both men have been charged with seven counts of grand theft and 16 counts of violating laws regulating “preneed” arrangements, all felonies, according to the district attorney’s office.

If convicted, the men could face up to 17 years and eight months in prison, prosecutors said.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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