Amanda Pampuro

COLORADO SPRING (CN) — A Colorado man charged with improperly disposing bodies at an "eco-friendly" funeral home spent tens of thousands of dollars on vehicles, restaurant tabs and crypto, prosecutors argued in court on Thursday, convincing an El Paso County judge to keep four money laundering charges in place.

This past October, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office discovered 189 decomposing bodies when officers investigated a foul odor coming from the funeral home’s facility in Penrose, a town of 3,000 approximately two hours south of Denver.

Jon and Carie Hallford, who owned Return to Nature Funeral Home in Colorado Springs and Penrose, were arrested in the following month on suspicion of abuse of a corpse, theft, money laundering and forgery.

The business’ website, which is no longer active, had advertised green and natural burials free of embalming chemicals. Colorado law allows for natural burials, but requires bodies to be refrigerated within 24 hours if they are not preserved.

FBI Special Agent Andrew Cohen testified on Thursday to finding 189 bodies at the Penrose facility, including the body of a veteran whose family believed had been buried at the Pikes Peak National Cemetery. The oldest body had been sitting in the boarded-up warehouse for more than two years.

In addition to finding a brown sludge on the floor, Cohen described a large insect problem as well as finding bug boxes, baking soda and bottles of Febreze.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Rachael Powell argued that Jon Hallford made purchases to launder money obtained from funeral services that were never provided.

Powell questioned Cohen about two SUVs Hallford had purchased as well as a $1,500 dinner tab at a Las Vegas casino. Per Cohen’s testimony, Hallford could have fulfilled his obligation to cremate the bodies as contracted for $57,000, about half the amount spent on a Yukon GMC and an Infinity SUV.

Hallford’s defense attorney countered that spending business proceeds does not amount to money laundering, but Fourth Judicial District Judge William Moller was unconvinced, opting to keep the charges in place.

“The People have established Mr. Hallford on or about the dates charged committed a series of transactions that attempt to conceal or disguise the proceedings of a criminal offense,” Moller said. “Here the criminal offense was the offense of improperly disposed bodies.”

To date, families who entrusted the funeral home to cremate deceased loved ones have filed two civil actions claiming negligence and fraud.

“For these plaintiffs this was a real-life nightmare,” the plaintiffs say in a 26-page lawsuit filed in the District Court of El Paso County on Nov. 2. “After weeks of worry, sleepless nights and gut-wrenching anguish those fears were confirmed. They were among the almost 200 families whose beloved family members had been discarded in an empty building to decompose, the ashes were fake and they now had to start grieving all over again.”

The plaintiffs claim the Hallfords gave families crushed concrete instead of ashes.

The Colorado Legislature elevated the offense of abuse of a corpse to a Class 6 felony in 2020 following the discovery of a body-brokering scheme at Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose.

If convicted of the most severe charge — money laundering — the couple faces up to 12 years in prison and a fine of $750,000.

Both Hallfords are scheduled to return to court March 21.

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