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Whistleblower threatened with being cremated alive after exposing mortuary kickback scheme

"Whistleblower": Embalmer uncovers fraud

No one knows better than a funeral director that life is short. But Barry Taul never imagined he'd fear his own life could be cut short — or that the threat would come from, of all people, his boss Jed Nagel, the owner of Abanks Mortuary and Crematory in Birmingham, Alabama.

"Most people have no idea what I went through," said Taul.

"How did you get along with Jed Nagel at first?" asked "Whistleblower" host Alex Ferrer.

"Well, I mean, we got along OK. We weren't, you know, really pals. He was the boss, I was an employee, I did my work and went home," Taul replied.

Taul discussed the case in the "Whistleblower" episode "Cremation, Kickbacks and Corruption: The Case Against Abanks Mortuary" airing Friday at 8/7c on CBS.

A client, the federally-funded Alabama Organ Center, used the Abanks facility to perform bone and tissue recovery. Taul then prepared donors' bodies for the funeral home of a loved one's choosing. His job went smoothly for about three years. But it imploded when he says he overheard his boss talking to the directors of the organ center.

"Jed … said, 'Look, if you want more money, you're going to have to start padding these bills better,'" said Taul.

Taul says the conversation came to a grinding halt and he went back to the embalming room. Moments later, he says, Nagel paid him a visit and made a confession.

"'My boy,' he said, 'You got to grease some palms in this world if you want to make some money,'" Taul told Ferrer. "Something's wrong. Padding bills, I mean, I'm not a genius. … Doesn't take a Phi Beta Kappa to figure that out, right?"

But after that, Taul says things took a dark turn when Jed Nagel became violent.

"He took an open bottle of embalming fluid," Taul said, "and just threw it across the room so it hits the floor, hits the wall and spills everywhere."

"Is that dangerous?" Ferrer asked.

"Very dangerous." 

He says his boss also started making terrifying threats — Taul believes to keep him quiet.

"He threatened to kill my parents and … and to kill me, to cremate me alive," Taul explained. "I work around dead bodies for a living. I have a very strong stomach. But this made me sick."

What Taul had unknowingly stumbled upon was a kickback scheme worth millions.

"So — basically they were ripping off taxpayers," said Ferrer.

"The entire country," said Taul.

Eventually, Taul hired attorney Larry Golston, who filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit.

"What did you think was going to happen in Barry's case?" Ferrer asked Golston.

"I thought we would win," he replied.

But not if the opposing attorney, Gene Rutledge, could help it.

"There are plenty of cases where whistleblowers are very effective and very useful … and help our country," said Rutledge. But this isn't one of 'em. This guy's a squealer."

Aside from threats Taul said his boss made to kill his parents and cremate him alive, there were other repercussions. Once Taul quit his job and went to work for another funeral home in the Birmingham area, he says his boss essentially blackballed him in the funeral industry. Only able to secure occasional work as a freelance embalmer, or as they refer to it in the industry, a "trade embalmer," Taul resorted to doing odd jobs. According to his longtime girlfriend, he went through virtually all of his retirement money. At the moment, Taul is supplementing his income teaching embalming at a mortuary school in Mississippi.

As for Jed Nagel, the boss who terrorized Taul, he went on trial twice: once in state court in Alabama, and once in federal court. And there was a very surprising end to the story.

Given the nature of the allegations, there was potential for a substantial recovery with lots of zeroes if Taul were to win. He and his whistleblower attorney were determined to take their case to the end.

Watch the full story on the "Whistleblower" episode "Cremation, Kickbacks and Corruption: The Case Against Abanks Mortuary" Friday, June 14, at 8/7c on CBS.