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Colorado funeral home owners indicted again and back in jail -- this time for alleged wire fraud

Demolition set for Return to Nature Funeral Home
Demolition set for Return to Nature Funeral Home 02:53

The married couple who own the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose are back behind bars as the facility where nearly 200 "improperly stored bodies" were discovered last fall will be demolished. Jon Hallford and Carie Hallford have been arrested by the FBI and indicted by the federal government for allegedly defrauding customers and the government.

Jon Hallford El Paso County Sheriff's Office

The Hallfords have each been charged with 10 counts of wire fraud over their alleged failure to bury or cremate bodies of people, despite taking money for the services. They've also been accused of making false statements to the U.S. Small Business Administration in their efforts to qualify for three separate loans totaling $882,300.

"Beginning as early as September of 2019, and continuing through October of 2023, the Hallfords failed to cremate or bury approximately 190 bodies in connection with the scheme. As a result, the Hallfords collected more than $130,000 from victims for cremation or burial services which they never provided," the 19-page federal indictment filed last week reads.

Carie Hallford El Paso County Sheriff's Office

The two appeared in federal court Monday to hear the charges against them. Among the allegations are that they defrauded the government to obtain SBA loans during the pandemic by defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, obtaining $882,300. The indictment indicates they spent money improperly on, "a vehicle, multiple vacations, entertainment, dining, tuition for a minor child, cryptocurrency, cosmetic medical procedures, jewelry, various goods and merchandise from Amazon, and payments to other vendors unrelated to their business."

"That's scamming all of us," said Abby Swoveland. 

The body of her mother Sally was among those found in the building. 

"We are all paying that. I am glad he is going to be answering to that. And she is, too" 

Swoveland has had a long and difficult six months. 

"There was a tremendous amount of shame that I had to work through on my own because I picked them, I chose them and this is what they did," she explained. 

She has been an advocate of changing requirements for funeral home operators and on inspections in the Colorado Legislature.

"And so speaking out had helped me with that."

Plans to tear the building down are a positive to her, "I think it's great. It's a long time coming. It's time for that building to go. That is going to be I think a cathartic moment for many, many families."

The funeral home grounds are set to be demolished this week after a ceremony for families of those impacted on Tuesday morning. The process is expected to take about 10 days to complete. 

The Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose  CBS

In the latest indictment, the Hallfords are facing 13 counts of wire fraud and aiding and abetting and two additional counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in federal prison, up to a $250,000 fine -- or a combination of the two -- up to 3 years of supervised release and they could be ordered to pay restitution.

The Hallfords are also facing hundreds of charges in connection to the Return to Nature Funeral Home including abuse of a corpse, forgery and money laundering. The couple was arrested in Oklahoma in November 2023.

It was last fall when 190 improperly stored bodies were discovered inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home. The investigation into the funeral home began in early October 2023 when neighbors reported a foul smell to law enforcement. 

All decedents were removed from the funeral home on Oct. 13, 2023 and transported to the El Paso County Coroner's Office. In February, Gov. Jared Polis issued a second Executive Order to provide an additional $220,000 for DNA testing related to the funeral home investigation. Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller said this week that 18 bodies have yet to be identified

Swoveland and other families hope that the Hallfords face vigorous prosecution as they hope to put this painful chapter behind them, "That's all we've got at this point to hold onto. The victims are just wanting justice. We all want justice. And we all want to see the Hallfords to answer for what they did."

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