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Funeral Home Owner: I Did Nothing Wrong

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Harry Carter

Harry Carter, owner of Carter Funeral Chapels, says allegations of improper handling of human remains at his business are false. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 02/21/12 – 5:22 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The owner of a South Shore neighborhood funeral home is defending himself, after police and city inspectors shut down his business and said they found several code violations.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, Harry Carter, the owner of Carter Funeral Chapels at 2100 E. 75th St., says he has done nothing wrong. In fact, he said several bodies were removed Monday and taken to other funeral homes, and the three remaining bodies will be collected Tuesday morning.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports

“I understand 100 percent,” Carter said as he stood next to his attorney Monday night. “I had a mother who passed away six years ago and a father – extremely close – so I’d be shocked if they saw this on then news and didn’t come ask me a few questions. But once again, every single allegation of improper care or improper paperwork has been found to be meritless, and otherwise, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

Carter told CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli he was set up by disgruntled employees.

But families who trusted Carter are angry.

“Disgruntled employees are capable of doing just about anything,” Carter said when asked about allegations that bodies were stacked in the garage in the winter to keep them cool.

He admitted that he owes $50,000 to ComEd, but said he hopes that they’ll set up a payment plan with him.

As for his business, he compared it to a 50-year-old battleship that he’s confident will survive the torpedo strike of the last two days.

Police tape that surrounded the funeral home on Monday was gone by Tuesday afternoon, but Carter Funeral Chapels was by no means open for business.

State regulators have ordered all nine of the bodies that were at the funeral home on Monday be removed from the facility.

Police and city inspectors came to the Carter Funeral Home on Monday morning, after finding the building had no heat or electricity. A former worker said bodies were not properly stored in coolers, but instead were placed in the garage in winter and cooled with frozen water packs in summer.

Chicago Police issued one citation to the owner for improper care and storage of deceased human remains. The funeral home also has been shut down.

Carter blamed the two employees and one former employee who were inside his business early Monday morning for trying to shut it down. He claimed those three stacked up bodies at the funeral home to set him up.

“That’s pretty evident, yes,” he said.

However, sources said Carter initially vouched for the employees early Monday morning when he arrived on the scene to investigate what police initially thought was a burglary in progress.

On Tuesday, however, he called for those employees to be prosecuted. As for the bodies themselves, he said they were in tip-top shape.

Carter’s funeral director’s license was suspended four years ago, but he said if he’d done anything criminal, he’d already be in jail. He said he hopes to be back in business in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, pastors and other mortuaries removed bodies from the funeral home after it was shut down.

Anthony Townsel said he thought his mother’s body already had been cremated. But on Monday, he was at the funeral home to claim his mother’s body more than a month after her death.

“Her body is in a bag being decomposed right now,” he said.

Police and city inspectors checked out the funeral home Monday morning after a call about a suspicious person and possible burglary.

A passerby called police after noticing the door of Carter the funeral home was open around 3:45 a.m. That person also noticed a suspicious car in the parking lot.

When police arrived, investigators found the funeral home was without power or heat. A city official said two bodies, neither of them embalmed, were found in the garage.

When officers arrived at the scene, two custodians and a third person were inside the funeral home. That third person had an outstanding warrant and was arrested. It was unknown why that person was at the funeral home.

Sources say officers also found several bodies being prepared for burial, no power or heat in the building, standing water in the basement, and a possible rodent problem. Firefighters were going in and out of the building in hazmat masks.

Sources say some bodies were stored in the garage, apparently to keep them cool.

Carter said there were no violations found in the building.

“They’ve gone through every square inch of this funeral home – the roof, basement, and every square inch of the first floor, and inspected every remains here – with a microscope, basically; a magnifying glass – and have not found one human remains to be out of compliance with any city, county or state court,” he said.

Carter acknowledged that he’d had problems related to the building in the past, but nothing beyond that.

“All businesses have their challenges, and they still have challenges. So I’m a small South Side Chicago businessman, and I have mine. That’s facility-related. But in terms of any human remains, I treat every single remains with the utmost respect,” he said.

But former funeral home worker Brian Johnson said there were problems at the funeral home. He said the owner did not properly store bodies in a cooler.

Johnson said the funeral home did everything quick, fast and easy. He said in winter, when there was no power, bodies would be stored in the garage.

“There is no cooling system whatsoever to keep bodies cold, and so in the wintertime the coldest place was the garage, or is the garage,” Johnson said.

In the summer, according to Johnson, “they would take water containers, and fill them up with water, and freeze them, and then stick the bottles underneath the arms, or underneath the head of the body to keep the overall body temperature cool.”

Johnson, a contractor who worked there for three years, claimed, “They were cutting corners. When he was supposed to do it correctly, he wouldn’t do it, because it was too much trouble, too much money, too much hassle.”

Sources said at least half a dozen bodies were stacked inside, in some cases one on top of the other.

Carter Funeral Chapels has faced 17 civil lawsuits between 1991 and 2010, most of them for contract disputes. Court records show most of those lawsuits were settled, dismissed or stricken.

Funeral director Harry Joseph Carter III had his license suspended for at least 90 days and was fined $6,000 in October 2008, for “violation of regulations, untrustworthiness, embalming without prior consent and unprofessional conduct,” records show.

The state also refused to renew his license in 2006 for failing to file and/or pay state income taxes, records show.

Carter’s license also was suspended in 1999 and he was fined for practicing on a non-renewed license and failing to take required continuing education courses. He later faced a two-year probation from October 1999 to October 2001 for the same violations, records show.

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