Owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home now face federal charges

Funeral Home Improper Body Storage
David Zalubowski/AP
A sign covers the broken back window of the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colo., Monday, Oct. 16, 2023.

Jon and Carie Hallford, who already face hundreds of state charges for failing to properly dispose of bodies delivered to their Penrose funeral home, have now been indicted by a federal grand jury.

The Hallfords, who ran Return to Nature Funeral Home northwest of Pueblo, were booked into the El Paso County Jail Sunday on the new federal charges. Those include conspiracy, wire fraud, and aiding and abetting for taking credit card payments from customers without providing promised services. There are additional counts alleging they conducted a scheme to defraud the federal Small Business Administration of more than $800,000 in loans.

“The Hallfords misused a substantial portion of the funds for personal purposes instead of using the funds for working capital to sustain their business,” the indictment charges. "The Hallfords misapplied the SBA funds for their own use and personal benefit by spending the funds on such things as: a vehicle, multiple vacations, entertainment, dining, tuition for a minor child, cryptocurrency, cosmetic medical procedures, jewelry, various goods and merchandise from Amazon, and payments to other vendors unrelated to their business.”

The indictment was filed under seal on April 10, and unsealed Monday after the Hallfords were arrested in El Paso County. They had previously been free on bond while awaiting trial on hundreds of state counts.

Authorities say the couple took payment to conduct natural burials or cremations of about 190 bodies through their funeral home. But rather than provide the services, the couple allowed the bodies to stack up in a building connected to the funeral home.

The federal indictment charges that they concealed the scheme by refusing to allow anyone into the building, and by providing families with concrete dust rather than ashes after supposed cremations.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency moved equipment into position Monday in preparation to begin demolition of the building where the bodies were stored starting on Tuesday.

If convicted of the federal charges, the Hallfords face up to 20 years in prison, as well as forfeiture of assets. Arrest warrants filed in the case say the government intends to seek pre-trial detention for the couple at a hearing set for later Monday afternoon.