The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Washington-area funeral operator has been shut down, sued and fined. Now he’s been convicted.

Electa Thompson holds a cardboard box bearing the name of her grandson, Anthony Bishop, whose ashes she was told were in the box. “I don’t want to think that’s not him,” said Bishop’s mother, Yolanda Green.
Electa Thompson holds a cardboard box bearing the name of her grandson, Anthony Bishop, whose ashes she was told were in the box. “I don’t want to think that’s not him,” said Bishop’s mother, Yolanda Green. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
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In Virginia, Shaun Reid’s funeral home shut down after the town of Dumfries accused his business of embalming bodies without the proper permit in an office along Main Street.

In the District, he owes $24,000 in fines after the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said he was operating without the proper credentials.

And in Maryland — where he was banned from performing funeral service work in 2014 — Reid pleaded guilty this month to two of seven charges he was indicted on in a case that court documents allege developed after one family learned ashes it believed were their relative’s were the remains of a stranger.

During the past five years, Reid has been reprimanded, fined, investigated and sued in connection with his funeral homes in the Washington region, government and court documents show. Now, several customers who contend they’ve been deceived by Reid hope that his Maryland conviction and the complaints he faces in the region will end dealings they say prey on grieving families.

“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this experience,” said Ross Miller, 64, who has filed a complaint against Reid in Virginia. “My goal is to make sure he doesn’t practice in any state ever again.”

Miller, who lives in Prince William County, said he paid Reid about $5,000 to handle the funeral and cremation of his wife, Kitty, after she died in August. But, in a complaint to the Virginia Department of Health Professions, Miller said he called Reid dozens of times to obtain his wife’s remains and death certificate. When Miller finally received the ashes, he told state officials, they came in a cardboard box — not the urn he ordered.

Some of Miller’s complaint echoes accusations Reid faced in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, where he pleaded guilty April 12 to forging and issuing a false death certificate and was sentenced to two years’ probation.

The criminal charges, according to court records, were filed after a man whose mother died in December 2016 had trouble securing her death certificate from Reid. After the son did his own investigation, charging documents state, the son learned his mother wasn’t cremated until July 2017 — three months after the family had received an urn with what Reid allegedly had told them were the woman’s remains. The investigation revealed the death certificate Reid’s business provided the family was a false document with a forged doctor’s signature, prosecutors said.

“I made some mistakes,” Reid said during his sentencing. “I truly apologize for the mishap that has happened.”

At the sentencing, Reid’s attorney Joseph Vallario III said his client got into the funeral business because he “cares about people” and is remorseful.

“It’s hard to explain away the act of forging a doctor’s name,” said Prince George’s County Judge Crystal D. Mittelstaedt, who added at Reid’s sentencing that he “exploited” a family while they were sad about the loss of a loved one.

Reid would not address the Maryland charges after his April 12 sentencing. But in a later interview with Fox 5 (WTTG), which first reported on complaints against Reid, he said he pleaded guilty to take responsibility for his business but was not the one who forged the document or “dropped the ball.”

The allegations of swapped ashes in Maryland have customers like Miller and District resident Yolanda Green wondering whether the remains they have are truly those of their family members. Green said she complained about Reid in a letter to the D.C. Board of Funeral Directors in 2017. She said she still hasn’t received an urn or death certificates she said she was promised after paying Reid’s business $4,000 for her son’s funeral. Her son, Anthony Bishop, died at 26 after suffering a seizure in his sleep.

Funeral operator accused of forging death certificates in Maryland

“I don’t want to think that’s not him,” said Green, of Northeast Washington, who nodded at a wooden box tied with thick burgundy ribbon at the home of Bishop’s grandmother.

Reid, in an interview, blamed the delays Miller and Green experienced on the crematories he used and on various approval processes he does not control. “We just can’t cremate a body without medical examiner approval,” Reid said, describing one of those processes.

Reid also said Miller never bought an urn; Miller provided The Washington Post with a copy of a purchase contract that said “THE Butterfly urn included” and noted that Miller had “paid in full.”

Reid, 33, has been in the funeral business since he was at least 18, according to a 2014 interview done with the Homicide Watch D.C. website. In the article, Reid describes himself as someone who builds trust with grieving families and helps them financially prepare for funerals.

“The major thing we’re specializing in is customizing funeral services to fit every budget,” Reid said in a different 2015 news story about the Reid & Burke Funeral Home he had opened in Stafford County. “Everybody deserves a decent, dignified burial.”

Reid encouraged The Post to speak to some customers he identified, including Walter Powell Jr., a former Alexandria police officer whose mother died in November.

“He was just giving us everything we needed,” Powell said, echoing what four other customers on Reid’s list said in conversations. “He constantly texted and called us. I can’t even hindsight it and say it could be better.”

Since he was 25, Reid has operated multiple funeral homes in the Washington area, including Shaun A. Reid Funeral Services & Memorial Chapel on Georgia Avenue in Washington and Reid Funeral Home in Dumfries, according to Reid and state records.

Last summer, neighbors near Reid’s funeral business in the heart of Dumfries worried bodies were being handled in a space that they believed was meant only for office use, Mayor Derrick R. Wood said.

A certificate of occupancy issued to Reid for the building in September 2015 specified “No services on site.”

Reid said he understood that to mean he couldn’t have funerals with large crowds on the property and said he was operating properly after the Virginia Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers approved the opening of his business.

A review by a state investigator and a town inspector, however, found evidence of the handling of bodies in the space.

“Plastic bags were discovered on property with embalming fluid (arterial fluid) and other evidence of this activity which [a] state inspector has informed the town,” read a September cease-and-desist letter from Dumfries to Reid.

Two months later, town officials nullified the certificate of occupancy that allowed him to operate in the building, sending another letter telling Reid, “You were given ample opportunity to cure the deficiencies that existed at this location, but you failed to remove all the equipment that is used to store the dead bodies & conduct embalming, body preparation work before burial of the dead body.”

“You can’t blatantly deceive the town and do your own thing,” Wood said. “There’s public safety and well being.”

The town in December suspended Reid’s business license for 30 days, and the license has since expired and the business shuttered, town officials said. Reid could apply for a new business license in the future, but it would be subject to town approval, Dumfries officials said.

Reid tried to sue the town after its enforcement actions, saying in documents filed in Prince William County District Court that Dumfries officials “made false allegations against my funeral home” and made statements of defamation to media outlets.

A judge dismissed Reid’s case on Feb. 12, and in a request to reopen it, which a judge also denied, Reid said in court filings that he had arrived to the courtroom four minutes after his case was called and dismissed at 11 a.m.

Court documents do not indicate the judge’s reason for the decisions, and transcripts or recordings from the hearings were not available.

Kristi Caturano, the town attorney for Dumfries, said Reid’s request for a rehearing was turned down after she argued that Reid had not retained legal counsel for the business as required by Virginia law and that Reid was not qualified to argue his motion himself to the court.

The Virginia Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers held a formal hearing April 16 to consider sanctions for the alleged occupancy permit violations. A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health Professions said she could not detail what occurred during the session, but online records indicate the license for Reid Funeral Home was suspended three days after the meeting.

It was not the first time a state board has looked into Reid’s business.

In 2017, an administrative law judge ordered Reid to pay $24,000 in fines for operating a funeral home without the proper credentials and offering services without a license in the District, according to documents from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Reid did not respond to the notice of infractions, which he said he never received. His business license has been revoked, DCRA records show. The fines stem from an investigation DCRA launched after receiving Green’s complaint, agency spokesman Tim Wilson said.

In 2014, the Maryland State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors found Reid had met with the family of someone who had died but did not make clear he was not licensed to practice mortuary science in the state, according to the consent order Reid signed that resolved the board action.

In lieu of the state board pursuing any charges administratively or in court, Reid agreed to a $1,000 fine, an order to complete an ethics course and to be barred from practicing mortuary science without board authorization, according to the consent order.

When asked by The Post, the board would not say whether Reid fulfilled those obligations.

Charging documents in the 2018 criminal case in Prince George’s County, to which Reid pleaded guilty April 12, stated Reid remained banned from practicing mortuary science in Maryland when he was charged.

The Prince George’s case involved the family of a woman who died in her Upper Marlboro home in December 2016.

The following summer, her son learned there was a warrant out for his mother’s arrest and planned to provide authorities with a copy of her death certificate to help clear the warrant, according to charging documents in the case.

But Reid never provided one, and when the family asked Reid why, he blamed the Maryland Vital Statistics Administration for the delay, according to court filings in the criminal case.

The family complained to the Maryland Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors and learned from the board that the urn they received from Reid held ashes from a cremation done months before the service for their relative, charging documents said.

The family could not be reached for comment on the case. But in a statement prosecutors read during Reid’s sentencing, the dead woman’s daughter said her family paid for services Reid didn’t provide. And when the family learned the ashes they had were not their mother’s, “It was as if our mother had died all over again.”

Green asserts Reid also made unkept promises. When she started calling a week after her son’s funeral to collect his ashes, Reid didn’t answer phone calls and missed pickup appointments, according to details Green’s family described in a complaint to the D.C. Board of Funeral Directors that she showed to The Post. When Reid delivered her son’s remains one month after the funeral, she did not get the 10-inch burgundy urn Green said she was promised.

“We just got a brown cardboard box with tape on it,” Green said. The ashes, she and her husband said, were still warm.

Green ordered a new urn for her son online but, she said, the family still has not received death certificates from Reid. Without them, she said, she has been unable to settle her son’s financial affairs.

“When you’re making final decisions, whether it’s for a child, father, mother or whoever, it’s hard to deal with,” Green said. “To have somebody stiff you and know you’re grieving . . . I shouldn’t have had to go through none of that.”

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