Lawsuit: Penn Hills Monuments never delivered tombstones; owner jailed
The owner of a Penn Hills tombstone business was charged with fraud on Wednesday, with police alleging that he preyed on the most vulnerable of victims: those mourning the death of a loved one.
Curtis Eakman, 52, owner of Penn Hills Monuments on Saltsburg Road, is charged with theft by deception and business fraud, both felonies. Detectives from the Penn Hills Police Department and the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office arrested Eakman in Magisterial District Judge Leonard HRomyak's courtroom when he arrived for a hearing in a civil lawsuit.
Detectives said Eakman accepted payments totaling more than $92,000 for custom-made headstones from at least 51 people.
He accepted the money knowing he could not deliver a product and spent the money as if from “his personal piggybank” on meals at restaurants, in nightclubs and at a Kay Jewelers, among other businesses, authorities said.
Detective Jackelyn Weibel of the District Attorney's Office wrote in a complaint that Eakman “continued to accept money from the victim customers even though he knew he could not honor their sales agreement.”
Eakman denied the charges shortly before his arrest.
“It's not true,” he said while entering the courtroom. “The tombstones are finished,” he said, but he could not deliver them to his customers because police “illegally locked me out” of his business after serving a search warrant last month.
Eakman, jailed on $20,000 bail, has a Feb. 14 hearing scheduled. He did not have a lawyer. HRomyak said a public defender would represent him.
Alleged victims said they were stunned that someone might intentionally target them in their anguish.
“It's hard to believe that somebody could do something like this,” said Gus Anderson, whose son Kristopher died in late 2012. “It's frustrating. One time I went by to talk to him, and he said something about how he hadn't heard back from the granite company, which seemed odd. ... I mean, what kind of person do you have to be to do something like this? I just don't understand it at all.”
Eakman and his ex-wife, Debra Scott, started Penn Hills Monuments in 2009, authorities said. The couple divorced in 2012, and Eakman assumed full ownership.
Soon after, Eakman began ordering granite slabs and engraving services but not paying suppliers, investigators said. He owed companies tens of thousands of dollars, and even when they stopped providing services, he continued to accept expensive orders from clients, the affidavit states.
Eakman has avoided his business for several weeks, even during posted hours of operation. The front door on Wednesday was padlocked. Several tombstones, some bare and others with names engraved on them, lay in and around the building. His business phone line was disconnected.
Anderson said dealing with the devastation of his son's death was difficult enough without the pain of being conned. He described his son, the chief financial officer for Christian Financial Management, as “a very smart, hardworking young man, very driven.”
More than a year after his death, Kristopher Jon Anderson's grave remains bare.
“We have to go through the whole process of ordering a headstone all over again,” Anderson said.
Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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