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Tombstone dealer charged with defrauding New Jersey customers on federal fraud charges

A federal grand jury has indicted a gravestone dealer on charges that he defrauded nearly 500 customers in New Jersey and neighboring states out of more than $1.5 million by accepting payments for gravestones and never delivering products or issuing refunds.

The indictment, unsealed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, charges Gregory J. Stefan Jr., 54, of Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania, with seven counts of wire fraud and details cases in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

The indictment comes after Stefan was charged separately in all three states with defrauding clients.

Last year, he was charged with 280 counts in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where court documents describe 69 victims between 2014 and 2022 whose losses exceeded $190,000.

Stefan has also been charged with theft offenses in 10 New Jersey counties and was indicted last month in a Gloucester County case.

His brother, Gerard (Jerry) J. Stefan, 49, of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, was also charged last month in Gloucester County in a separate case in which he allegedly accepted a $5,054 payment from a widow in Deptford but never delivered a headstone.

Gerard Stefan is not named as a defendant in the federal indictment.

Stefan Jr. and his brother, identified only as GS in the federal indictment, formed a tombstone company in Pennsylvania called 1843 LLC in 2016, with Stefan Jr. in charge of day-to-day operations, according to the indictment.

From January 2018 through September 2023, Stefan Jr., “along with other conspirators known to the grand jury, devised and intended to devise a scheme to defraud hundreds of customers,” the indictment states.

The seven cases described in the indictment include alleged victims from Jackson and Little Egg Harbor in New Jersey, along with Philadelphia, Pottstown, Perkasie and Nazareth in Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware.

Stefan Jr. identified potential clients by searching obituaries and reaching out to surviving relatives shortly after the deaths, either by phone call or by showing up at their homes, prosecutors said.

He promised that the stones would be delivered in about six months and demanded large advance payments, which were quickly deposited.

“Instead of using the funds to purchase the goods and services for which customers paid, he used many of the funds to fund his own personal expenses and those of his brother, GS,” the indictment states.

The Stefans did not manufacture the stones themselves, but hired another company, according to the indictment.

When customers did not receive their stones as promised and demanded refunds, Stefan ignored the messages or provided letters saying his business had experienced difficulties and would be unable to deliver as promised, prosecutors said.

His father, Gregory J. Stefan Sr., had operated tombstone businesses since the 1970s and was sued by the Pennsylvania Attorney General in 2015, accusing the elder Stefan of deceptive business practices, according to the indictment.

Under a settlement agreement last year, the Stefans were barred from conducting gravestone sales in the state and were required to pay restitution to customers. The elder Stefan is also not named as a defendant in the federal case.

Meanwhile, Stefan Jr. established Colonial Memorials in New Jersey in 2021, “which targeted New Jersey-based customers” and routinely failed to deliver customer orders “just as he had done when conducting business as late as 1843,” the U.S. attorney said.

In total, Stefan Jr. failed to deliver or refund orders placed by nearly 500 customers, according to the federal indictment. That accounted for more than 25% of all customer orders placed between January 2018 and March 2023, authorities said.

As for broken promises, “customers had paid defendant Stefan more than $1.5 million for those orders,” according to the indictment.

The U.S. Attorney is seeking to recover $1,552,120 from Stefan Jr., who made his initial appearance in federal court on the indictment Tuesday afternoon.

If convicted, Stefan Jr. faces a maximum of 140 years in prison, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear who was representing the defendant in the federal case. An attorney handling his cases in New Jersey said in February that Stefan Jr. had recently lost his wife to cancer and was trying to sort out his business problems and his criminal cases.

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You can contact Matt Gray at [email protected].