Mortuary owners not charged
By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
HILO, Hawai'i Three members of the Diego family that operates two Big Island mortuaries under investigation for theft and burying bodies without caskets were released without charges yesterday.
Robert Diego has denied wrongdoing.
Momi Diego is a co-owner of the family's West Hawai'i Mortuary.
Bobbie Jean "B.J." Diego is the daughter of Robert and Momi.
The three were arrested Wednesday morning on suspicion of second-degree theft involving the sale of pre-need funeral plans.
Chief investigator Donald K.L. Wong would not comment on why officials did not move to charge the Diegos.
He said the investigation is continuing.
"Let's not anybody think that they're off the hook, because they're not," he said.
Investigators last month seized records from the Diegos' businesses, which include the Hilo mortuary and West Hawai'i Mortuary.
An affidavit filed in support of the search warrant stated that at least two Big Island families said they purchased caskets from Memorial Mortuary but later found out their loved ones had been buried in bags and placed on bare dirt.
The affidavit also states that the mortuary sold pre-need funeral plans and conducted embalmings without proper state authorization.
Robert Diego yesterday denied he had anything to do with the missing caskets. He said the burials were conducted by previous owners of Mauna Kea Memorial Park in Papa'ikou, which has no connection to the Diegos.
Mark Fellman, a former owner of Mauna Kea Memorial Park, is the subject of a 1986 indictment alleging he stole $300,000 from the cemetery's trust fund. The indictment was never served and Fellman's whereabouts are unknown.
The state investigation into the Diegos' funeral-related businesses was launched last July after Robert Diego's former girlfriend, Lucille Mossman, made a number of allegations to state investigators. She claimed that Diego did embalmings on at least five occasions, even though he was not licensed to do so.
Diego is an apprentice embalmer, which allows him only to clean bodies, dress them and do cosmetic work.
Diego yesterday said he does not conduct embalmings and uses a contract embalmer. During an interim period starting in August 2000 when Memorial Mortuary moved from Waianuenue Avenue to Maka'ala Street and before an embalming room was constructed at the new location, Diego contracted embalming services with Borthwick Mortuary in Hilo or sent remains to Leeward Funeral Home on O'ahu for preparation, he said.
Diego said the publicity surrounding the state investigation has hurt his business, which was established in 1963. The mortuary continues in operation, and is holding a funeral in Kona today and one in Hilo tomorrow.
The Diegos' attorney, Brenda Carreira, said that prior to their release at 9 a.m yesterday, she had filed a motion in Hilo Circuit Court seeking a hearing to force authorities to free them.
Carreira stressed that the Diegos were never charged with any crime.