Penn Hills grave fraud case held over for trial
The owner of a Penn Hills tombstone business will go to trial on charges that he defrauded nearly $100,000 from dozens of victims who were mourning the recent 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.
Authorities say Eakman accepted payments totaling $99,785 from 59 people for tombstone orders he had no intention of completing. Instead, he used the money to buy gas, pay bills, eat at restaurants and visit nightclubs, investigators said.
“You can't say I'm going to give you something when you know you have no ability to do it,” Assistant District Attorney John Fitzgerald said Friday during Eakman's preliminary hearing in Penn Hills. “That's the fraud here.”
Public defender Jessica Bole argued that Eakman is guilty only of being a “bad businessman.” She urged Magisterial District Judge Leonard Hromyak to dismiss the charges and advise victims to file a civil suit.
“This is not something where Mr. Eakman in any way intended to defraud (clients),” Bole said. “He got in over his head.”
But after listening to six alleged victims testify in a court room that included dozens of other victims, Hromyak held Eakman for trial.
The gallery broke into applause at Hromyak's decision. He did not set a trial date.
Eakman, free on a $20,000 bond, did not respond to questions when he left the courthouse. He pleaded not guilty.
Detective Jackelyn Weibel of the District Attorney's Office said Eakman owed suppliers and contractors thousands of dollars, and that in 2012, they stopped accepting orders from him.
Yet Eakman continued accepting payments from clients, then used the money for personal expenses, she testified.
An out-of-state victim paid Eakman to straighten a tombstone in Woodlawn Cemetery in Penn Township, Weibel said. When the victim checked to see if the work had been completed, she found the tombstone “laying face down on the ground.”
Thomas Kean ordered a headstone for $1,325 for his grandmother in April 2012. He learned that he was a potential victim after reading a story about Eakman's arrest in the Tribune-Review in January, he said.
Tom Fife glared at Eakman through much of his testimony.
He said his mother, Dorothy Fife, died in March 2012. He paid Eakman more than $1,000 for a headstone, and his mother's grave remains unmarked.
“I never thought anybody could stoop so low,” Fife said. “I've seen a lot of bad things in my life, but this is the lowest. He has taken it upon himself to dishonor the people who are gone.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- State lawmaker proposes increasing cost of fishing licenses
- Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto: Public has stake in Penguins
- Belle Vernon woman visits ship like lander she helped build as WWII welder
- Asking price for Penguins franchise said to be at a record $750M
- Embezzled $14.8M could cause woes for North Side firm Matthews International
- Newsmaker: Pete DiNardo
- Pittsburgh schools chief Lane stepping down next summer
- Saudi King Salman assured on Iran nuclear deal in U.S. trip
- Western Pennsylvania schools’ denial of access to roofers prompts suit
- West Jefferson Hills schools close because of gun threat
- Animal welfare groups see opportunities in dialogue about Vick signing