Penn Hills gravestone business owner who swindled mourning families sentenced to jail
Each time Curtis Eakman writes a check to put toward the court-ordered restitution a judge told him to pay Tuesday, Sandra Henderson hopes he thinks of her father.
Henderson's dad, George Henderson III, died in January 2013 and was laid to rest among members of his family along a low-sloped hill in Churchill Cemetery in Wilkins.
Henderson of New Albany, Ohio, wanted to match her father's headstone to that of her grandfather, George Henderson II, and Eakman, the former owner of Penn Hills Monuments on Saltsburg Road, promised to deliver.
If she paid cash, he told her, she'd get a discount.
Days went by, then weeks and months. The headstone never appeared.
“His birthday came and went, then it was Memorial Day and the planting of red, white and blue flowers ... and I now stood alone, on top of his unmarked grave,” Henderson said.
Then came Father's Day. An anniversary. Thanksgiving. Still, George Henderson III, who for decades worked in transportation logistics at Westinghouse, lay in an unmarked grave.
“My mother was shaken to the core that someone would actually do this,” Henderson said.
On Tuesday, Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani ordered Eakman, 53, who has a Clearfield address, to serve one to two years in jail, serve 12 years on probation and repay a total of $98,000 to Henderson and the 55 other families from whom he stole money.
Eakman's lawyer, Casey D. White, called the judge's sentence “fair” but added that his client's incarceration will prevent him from paying restitution until he's released and finds a new job. Eakman had been working at Lowe's and was going to be promoted to full time in a couple of weeks, White said.
“He knows he has a duty to repay the money,” White said. “Our goal all along is to get those victims paid.”
Eakman wrote a check for $4,000 that White planned to turn over to the court Tuesday.
Initially charged with 10 counts in February 2014, Eakman pleaded guilty in March to three counts of felony theft and one felony count of false business practices. Prosecutors dropped seven theft charges in exchange for his guilty plea.
Authorities said Eakman took customers' money but did not deliver on the headstones. He instead used the money at nightclubs, restaurants and to buy jewelry, investigators said.
Henderson, who eventually bought a headstone for her father's grave and honored him graveside with bagpipes and Scotch, said she is satisfied with his sentence.
“He's now going to be reminded of what he did for a very long time,” she said.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.