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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

Mortuary search warrant challenged

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

HILO, Hawai'i — A court petition filed yesterday afternoon on behalf of the owner of a Hilo mortuary under investigation by the state seeks to invalidate a search warrant used to seize records from the business last month.

The petition and motion for return of property says any evidence obtained as a result of the Feb. 20 search of Memorial Mortuary should be thrown out because the search warrant was too broad and an affidavit filed by an investigator with the attorney general's office contained false statements. The 40-page petition also seeks the return of the items taken in the search.

Mortuary owner Robert Diego, 59, his wife Momi Diego, 59, and their daughter, Bobbie Jean Diego, 32, were arrested March 20 for alleged second-degree theft and held for 24 hours before release. They have not been charged.

A hearing on the petition will be held April 25 before Hilo Judge Greg Nakamura.

Investigators with the attorney general's office could not be reached late yesterday for comment.

The affidavit stated that at least two Big Island families bought caskets from Memorial Mortuary but later found out their loved ones had been buried in bags.

The affidavit also said the mortuary sold pre-need funeral plans and conducted embalmings without proper state authorization.

The Diegos' attorney, Brenda Carreira, yesterday said she finds it odd that the two families mentioned in the affidavit did not file complaints at the time of the alleged incidents in 1994 and 1995. Carreira said she's not conceding that the bodies were buried without caskets, since the Diegos were not present for the exhumations.

Memorial Mortuary staff placed the caskets on lowering devices at Mauna Kea Memorial Park in Papa'ikou but left before burial was complete, Carreira said. It was the private cemetery, under previous owners, that was responsible for actually burying the bodies, she said.

Carreira said state investigators also failed to interview the licensed embalmer under contract to the mortuary. If they had, she said, they would've been able to dismiss allegations that Diego performed embalmings even though he is just an apprentice embalmer.

The state investigation was launched after Diego's ex-girlfriend, Lucille Mossman, came forward with the allegations.

Carreira said the case against Memorial Mortuary is based on the woman's unsubstantiated claims. The affidavit states that Mossman was a saleswoman for the mortuary, but Carreira denies that. The attorney also rejected Mossman's claim that she was present for five embalmings conducted by Diego.

"She was never allowed to be at embalmments," Carreira said.