DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. - Pennsylvania's top prosecutor is taking a Philadelphia-area business and its owner to court for allegedly failing to deliver cemetery markers, memorials and engravings after accepting advance payments.
The suit, filed Monday in Delaware County court, accuses the Upper Darby company Lifestone by Stefan, LLC, of violating the state's consumer protection laws, FOX 29 Investigative Reporter Jeff Cole says.
The attorney general's critique of Lifestone by Stefan's operations is harsh. It says the company "has engaged in widespread deceptive business practices."
"It's reprehensible behavior," said Chief Deputy Attorney General Basil Merenda, who heads the Bureau of Consumer Protection. "You know, they're taking advantage of consumers that are at a vulnerable, sad time in their lives, and they're not meeting their obligations."
Lifestone by Stefan also goes by Stefan Memorials, runs the website TombstonesAndHeadstones.com, and operates well over a dozen headstone companies across the region.
In October, FOX 29 Investigates reported the story of the Lavin family of Blue Bell.
When James Lavin, a father of six and a life-long cop, died at 84, his family paid nearly $4,000 to Lifestone for his gravestone. That was back in early May 2014.
Sixteen months later and there was no headstone despite repeated calls and contact with Lifestone and its operator, Greg Stefan Jr.
"Why do we got to go through this?" asked Lavin's son, Joe. "How does this man put his head down at night knowing that, you know, there's people out there chasing after him for a stone?"
In early October, FOX 29 Investigates left a message for Stefan asking why the company had failed to place the stone.
One day later, and the stone was there.
FOX 29 Investigates has heard from nearly two dozen customers who've had trouble getting services or responses from Lifestone. Some eventually got their stones finished, but it took a lot of effort.
The attorney general's civil complaint tells similar stories as it lays out seven examples of consumers who were badly treated by Lifestone.
"These folks wanted to provide their loved ones with a respectful memorial in a traditional sense. They wanted to achieve some closure. But they weren't able to do that because the businesses never delivered," Merenda said.
In one case, consumers from the Malvern area made out a check in December 2012 to pay for an $8,000 headstone. As of August 2015 – nearly three years later – the headstone had not been installed, the complaint alleges.
"More than 50 consumers made reports to our office concerning their difficulties dealing with these businesses," Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in a news release Tuesday afternoon. "It is very disheartening to hear allegations of people being exploited during moments of tremendous grief and loss."
Gregory Stefan Sr. is named in the suit as company president.
A call placed Tuesday morning to Lifestone by Stefan for comment has not yet been returned.
The A.G.'s office wants a $1,000 fine for every violation of the law, or $3,000 if the consumer was over the age of 60, Cole reported.