Uptown Funeral Chain Hit With Lawsuit by City Agency; Draws Ire of Eric Adams, Julie Menin

A recent lawsuit filed by the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection against the R. G. Ortiz funeral homes charges “predatory practices” directed against grieving consumers, dating back years.

| 02 May 2024 | 06:37

A chain of funeral homes with branches in Manhattan has been hit with a law suit by the city’s watchdog agency claiming predatory practices and violations ranging from faulty embalming to lost bodies of deceased family members.

Some shocked relatives said their deceased family member appeared so disfigured that the family had to do their hair and apply makeup to the departed on their own.

In one earlier $65 million lawsuit filed by a family in Brooklyn, relatives said that R. G. Ortiz failed to retrieve a body from the medical examiner’s office, resulting in a loved one being buried in a Potter’s Field on Hart Island.

A visitor identified as John Williams complained to the chamber of commerce after attending his aunt’s funeral. “All I’m going to say, this is the worst funeral service I ever attended.” He gave the funeral parlor a one star rating but said he would have given it a zero if he could. Among his complaints: the family had to load his aunt’s casket into the hearse, which they had to obtain from another funeral home.

“Grieving the passing of a loved one can be the most challenging moment in our lives and no one should be exploited by predatory business practices during such a vulnerable time,” said DCWP Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga. “R.G. Ortiz’s conduct has left dozens of bereaved families in limbo waiting for their loved ones’ remains–or worse–and we will not hesitate to hold them accountable for their exploitation of our neighbors.”

R. G. Ortiz funeral home includes three branches in upper Manhattan that were mentioned in the lawsuit: 204 East 116th Street; 235 West 72nd Street and 4425 Broadway that were named in the suit as well as outlets in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Another Manhattan branch of the R. G. Ortiz Funeral Homes at 22 First Ave in the East Village, was not named in the DCWP law suit.

Complaints have been piling up since at least 2019, the DCWP found, prompting it to launch an undercover investigation.

“Over the past five years, at least 48 consumers seeking funeral services and related products were so aggrieved by R.G. Ortiz’s deceptive business practices that they submitted complaints to DCWP, the Better Business Bureau, or the Federal Trade Commission,” the lawsuit claims.

He also said he is continuing to build a case against the chain. “Anyone who has experienced similar deception by R.G. Ortiz Funeral Homes should reach out to us immediately.”

The long list of complaints has caught the attention of elected officials.

“The alleged violations by R.G. Ortiz Funeral Homes is appalling and unacceptable,” said Mayor Eric Adams. “No family in New York City should ever have to endure predatory treatment, especially during their time of grief and mourning.”

“Burying a loved one is a difficult process and it is unacceptable to exploit grieving families,” said Council Member Julie Menin, Chair of the Committee of Consumer & Worker Protection. “The shameless conduct of this business, from failing to transport remains to forcing families to perform cosmetology services on deceased individuals, has resulted in significant harm.”

Not everyone had an unpleasant experience, however. One user identified on the Chamber of Commerce site as Tony Sanchez gave the funeral home a five star rating after he used one of the branches to wake his late mother. “I want to thank Evelyn for her compassion and she made the process go so smooth. She didn’t take advantage of my vulnerable state right after losing my mother and didn’t try to sell me anything over the top in prices. Had she not been in the office the day I went I would not have put my mom there.”

But another reviewer named Susan Salmeron in 2022 said on the Chamber of Commerce site: “I ranked 1 because zero is not an option. My Fathers service was suppose to start at 3 pm and at 4:59 pm they were still unable to locate the his body. They had one lady working the office and four viewings at their roster. No-one at the entrance greeting or directing family...Of the many funerals I have attended, I am truly appalled that my father was not provided the dignity he truly deserved.”

DCWP Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga said he is continuing to build a case against the chain and wants consumers who have had problems to contact the agency. “Anyone who has experienced similar deception by R.G. Ortiz Funeral Homes should reach out to us immediately,” he said.

Calls to Michael Ortiz, who is identified as the owner, were not returned by presstime.