gavel.jpgA second man accused of swindling customers at a funeral home in San Francisco’s Bayview District pleaded not guilty today to charges in the case.

Donald Rollins, 56, was arraigned this afternoon in San Francisco Superior Court on charges that he allegedly accepted advance payments for funeral services at the company he worked for, Funerals by Washington, which then used the money inappropriately.

Rollins’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Tal Klement, said his client had been told by his boss to sign people up for the services but was not responsible for the improper handling of the money.

The owner of the company, Derek Washington, 38, was arraigned on similar charges on Wednesday, and also pleaded not guilty.

Both men face seven counts of grand theft and 16 counts of violating the laws regulating “pre-need” funeral service agreements.

In such agreements, customers pay in advance for a funeral for themselves, an elderly family member, or a child. The law requires that “pre-need” payments be put into trust accounts and not be used for a funeral home’s operating expenses, according to the district attorney’s office.

At least seven victims in the case entered into contracts with Funerals by Washington between March 2004 and January 2009, when the funeral home was shut down.

The company never repaid or rendered services to any of the seven victims, according to Assistant District Attorney Evan Ackiron, who will be prosecuting the case.

One of the victims died in 2008, and the family was told by the company that the paperwork had been lost and that they had to hold the funeral elsewhere, Ackiron said.

That family filed the initial complaint against Funerals by Washington, prompting an audit by the state’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau.

Authorities found that at least seven victims – six of whom are still alive – lost about $30,000 total to the funeral home, according to the district attorney’s office.

Bank records show the men spent some of the money on the business while spending some on other items, Ackiron said.

Rollins, who said he is now unemployed, was not responsible for the finances of the company.

Instead it was his supervisor, Washington, who “absconded with the money,” Klement said.

Rollins was “merely an employee,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Max Peltz told the judge, “We don’t believe (Rollins’) involvement is as attenuated as the defense says…the volume of the victims group suggests his knowledge of the criminality.”

Rollins was allowed by the judge to be released on his own recognizance following today’s hearing. Washington, who had surrendered to police last week and posted $60,000 bail, is also out of custody.

Both men are scheduled to return to court on March 3.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!