Two Colorado funeral home owners accused of abandoning nearly 200 bodies accepted payments from families intended for cremations and burials and instead bought vehicles, cryptocurrency, a $1,500 dinner in Las Vegas and other personal items, prosecutors and an FBI agent.
In a room full of relatives of the deceased, FBI agent Andrew Cohen detailed that Jon and Carie Hallford used the families’ payments to buy two vehicles (a GMC Yukon and an Infinti) for more than $120,000, enough to cover the double the costs of cremating all the bodies found in the storage facility of his business in Penrose, Colorado, last October.
Jon Hallford looked ahead as he sat at the defense table in a dark jacket, tie and glasses as Cohen testified. He didn’t seem to show any reaction.
Some of the bodies had been in the maggot-infested building for years before being discovered following reports of a foul odor permeating the small mountain town. Families who hired Return to Nature to cremate their relatives told The Associated Press that the FBI confirmed their remains were among the decomposing bodies.
The testimony about the Hallfords’ spending practices came during a hearing in which a judge determined that prosecutors presented enough evidence to show that Jon Hallford should stand trial on criminal charges. The judge previously ruled that Carie Hallford will also stand trial.
The couple was arrested in November in Oklahoma. None of them have pleaded guilty yet. Investigators have been gathering evidence since the bodies were found.
Jon Hallford’s lawyer, Adam Steigerwald, argued that the prosecution had not proven that money from the couple’s business account was spent to conceal the origin of the funds, meaning it did not constitute a money laundering offence. He also said the Yukon was purchased with money the couple received from the federal Small Business Administration.
But Cohen said the money, an adjustment to a pandemic-era small business loan given to the Hallfords, was obtained fraudulently after Hallford lied about not being behind on child support payments. .
The couple, owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs, are each charged with 190 counts of abuse of a corpse, five counts of theft, four counts of money laundering and more than 50 counts of forgery. In addition to their funeral home, they used a building in the nearby rural community of Penrose as a body storage facility, prosecutors say.
Members of law enforcement and the coroner’s office searched a “green” Colorado funeral home for reports of suspicious activity and improper storage of bodies.
At a previous hearing for Carie Hallford, prosecutors presented text messages suggesting she and her husband tried to cover up their financial difficulties by leaving the bodies at the Penrose site. They did not give more details. The building had makeshift refrigeration units that were not operational at the time the bodies were found, Cohen testified.
According to prosecutors, Jon Hallford was worried about being caught as early as 2020 and suggested disposing of the bodies by throwing them into a large hole and then treating them with bleach or setting them on fire.
“My only goal is to keep us out of jail,” he wrote in a text message, prosecutors alleged.
Jon Hallford was released from the El Paso County Jail in late January after posting $100,000 bail. Carie Halford remained in jail Thursday on $100,000 bond.
Matthew Brown contributed to this report from Billings, Montana.