A Colorado lawmaker is preparing to introduce legislation that would allow the state agency that regulates funeral homes to inspect and investigate the activities at a facility, a power the agency currently does not have.
The proposed law comes after multiple Denver7 investigations over the course of the past four years that highlighted misconduct that led to criminal charges at funeral homes in Montrose and Leadville.
Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties, is set to introduce the bill in the coming weeks and called the incidents in Montrose and Leadville “disgusting.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” Roberts said to Denver7 Investigates. “It shouldn’t happen in Colorado.”
Funeral homes are overseen by the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, which at the moment does not have the authority to inspect them, however, places such as beauty salons can be investigated after receiving complaints.
“It’s a travesty, and that’s what this bill is targeting,” Roberts said.
The proposed legislation states that DORA may “investigate the activities of a funeral establishment or crematory upon the director’s own initiative or upon receipt of a complaint or a suspected or alleged violation.”
DORA Deputy Director of Legal Affairs Karen McGovern previously told Denver7 that the authority to inspect would have enabled her department to move faster when investigating the funeral homes in Montrose and Leadville.
In Montrose, an FBI investigation into the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home led to charges from the U.S. Attorney. The home’s operators allegedly schemed to obtain human bodies and sell off body parts without notifying the families over the course of several years.
Sunset Mesa operator Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, were indicted on multiple counts of mail fraud and transporting hazardous materials. They are still awaiting trial.
Former Lake County Coroner Shannon Kent, who operated multiple funeral homes, including ones in Leadville and Silverthorne, was charged with abuse of a corpse after his homes were raided by police. Body camera footage from one of the raids showed an officer calling the facility “a house of horrors,” after four badly decayed bodies were found on site.
Last year,Kent was found guilty of misconduct. He resigned as coroner and is currently awaiting trial on the charges of abuse of a corpse and attempting to tamper with a deceased human body.
“They put a stain on the industry,” Roberts said of these businesses. “For those that are trying to do this egregious behavior, that’s not going to happen anymore in Colorado.”
Roberts said stories like the ones highlighted by Denver7 Investigates are what led to the bill’s introduction. He expects to have bipartisan support.
“What happened in Leadville should never have happened,” Roberts said. “Or at least it should have stopped after the first complaint.”