The second time around

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Here’s a compliance tip that extends beyond the narrow facts of the FTC case at hand: If you run into legal trouble and are able to avoid law enforcement action, make sure it doesn’t happen a second time. That’s what business people from every sector can take from the FTC’s settlement with James Donofrio and Donmaz Ltd., doing business as New York’s Blair-Mazzarella Funeral Home.

Every year the FTC conducts undercover inspections to make sure funeral homes are following the Funeral Rule. First-time offenders found with significant violations are offered the opportunity to enter the Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP), a three-year training program aimed at boosting compliance. Run by the National Funeral Directors Association, FROP is a one-time alternative to law enforcement — and the court order and civil penalties legal action entails. Underscore “one-time.” Back in 2003, the FTC alleged that Mr. Donofrio had engaged in significant violations of the Funeral Rule. Rather than face law enforcement, he enrolled in FROP and received training on how to comply.

Fast forward seven years and according to the FTC, on two occasions in 2010, the funeral home failed to provide a casket price list before showing caskets, in violation of the Funeral Rule. But this time, FROP’s not an option. The proposed settlement bars future Rule violations and imposes a $32,000 civil penalty, all but $7,000 of which will be suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay. (The full amount becomes due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.) This is the FTC's first case against a funeral home that had participated in FROP

The compliance take-away: Second go-rounds with the FTC rarely end pleasantly.

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