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 firstname.lastname@example.org.