WASHINGTON - A Northwest D.C. funeral home is the center of a lawsuit filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.
Racine alleges that Austin Royster Funeral Home on Kennedy Street in D.C.'s Brightwood Park neighborhood operated without proper licenses and charged families for services it did not provide.
The Office of the Attorney General also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against Austin Royster Funeral Home and Jamelle Royster and James Agee, who were involved in owning and operating the funeral home.
Racine alleges Austin Royster has been operating without proper licenses and prevented grieving families from receiving death certificates, which enable families to handle affairs on behalf of the deceased.
Racine also says that Austin Royster did not provide funeral services as promised and misappropriated funds from patrons.
"Grieving families shouldn't have to worry about whether they are being taken advantage of while mourning the loss of their loved ones," said Racine. "We are deeply concerned that Austin Royster may have engaged in multiple unlawful practices while providing funeral services. Our office is working hard to help relatives and friends of the deceased individuals conclude their affairs and get restitution."
Changus Hayes alleges in the lawsuit that the funeral home's chief operating officer, Jamelle Royster, advised him to sign over his father's $53,000 life insurance policy in order to pay for a funeral that cost $5,767. Hayes says Royster assured him she would pay out the remaining balance of $47,243. However, after several months of calls, text messages and even two cross country trips later, Hayes only received a bounced check.
In another case, Quantella Gregory says she requested that her deceased grandmother be properly cleansed and prepared by Muslim women as dictated by Muslim tradition. Gregory alleges Royster then embalmed her grandmother without permission. When Gregory learned her grandmother's death certificate was still not available a month later, Royster told her "not to worry because her grandmother was still in the freezer."
According to the Office of the Attorney General, remains of deceased individuals have been removed from the Austin Royster Funeral Home and are now in the possession of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The Attorney General's Office said in a news release:
For Consumers Who May Have Been Harmed by Austin Royster's Actions
If you are a District resident and think you may have been the victim in this case or from any type of fraud or scam, you can file a consumer complaint by calling OAG's Consumer Protection Hotline at (202) 442-9828, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about how to protect yourself from businesses that take advantage of consumers, visit OAG's Consumer Protection Library at https://oag.dc.gov/consumerprotection.
For Families Whose Loved Ones' Remains Were in Austin Royster's Possession
As the result of an ongoing investigation, remains of deceased individuals have been removed from the Austin Royster Funeral Home and are now in the possession of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). Attorney General Racine and the District's Chief Medical Examiner, Roger A. Mitchell, are asking families who have recently worked with Austin Royster to call OCME at (202) 698-9000 to get more information and make alternative arrangements.