NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – A former funeral director accused of theft, life insurance fraud, and improperly disposing of bodies has pleaded guilty.
William Ryder was sentenced to one year and six months in prison, during a change-of-plea hearing held Friday morning at Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton. Ryder ran the former Ryder Funeral Home in South Hadley, where back in 2014, state regulators allegedly found decomposing and improperly stored bodies.
On Friday, the 56 year old Ryder told the judge he understood his right to a trial by jury, but wished to plead guilty to all charges. First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne laid out the facts of the case.
Ryder embezzled nearly $400,000 from 74 customers. In each case, he either used the money for himself, his family or to keep his failing business operational. The money should have either been given to a bank and held in a trust, or forwarded to an insurance company and held in an interest baring account.
Prosecutors had requested a sentence of three to five years in state prison, while Ryder’s attorney asked for five years of probation. Ryder’s lawyer says that his client had been struggling with substance abuse and hit bottom at the time of the inspection in 2014. He said his client is now in therapy, and said that incarceration would be a “setback” to his progress.
In addition to his prison time, Ryder will be on probation for the next 15 years.
During a 2014 investigation, regulators say they found nine bodies that were cared for improperly, including a body that was not properly embalmed, another that was wrapped in blankets and decomposing, two that were not in a proper refrigeration unit, and another that was in the garage.
At an earlier arraignment, Ryder had pleaded not guilty to a 56-count criminal indictment in the case.
Meanwhile, in a civil case, three children whose father had his funeral at Ryder were awarded $150,000. The plaintiffs said their father’s ashes- which were supposed to be combined with their mother’s and buried- were not the ashes that were placed in his grave. Their mother’s ashes also disappeared.
The state told the judge they believe all of Ryder’s victim will be made “mostly whole” through civil suits, so they did not seek restitution.
Ryder’s father, William Ryder Sr., founded the South Hadley funeral home, which has since been sold to Curran & O’Brien. Ryder’s attorney told the court that his client has struggled over the years with a feeling of failure.