Embezzled, Not Embalmed

Former mortician Gregory Calderon is charged with embezzling $48,000 from 16 elderly Santa Barbara residents after the state revoked his license and he failed to return client money deposited in their funeral home accounts. According to prosecutor Brian Cota, Calderon — a former church deacon, S.B. Police chaplain, and Cottage Hospital security guard — faces 16 felony counts and could spend a maximum of seven years, six months in prison if convicted. Eight of those charges are for grand theft and embezzlement; the other eight are for failure to provide trust accounts for the pre-need funds. Multiple attempts were made to contact Calderon and his attorney, but neither would comment for this story.

Ernestine De Soto
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman (file)

Ernestine De Soto

Calderon, who will be arraigned on December 6, reportedly gained the trust of 28 members of Our Lady of Sorrows Church while acting as a chapel deacon there in 2007. Ernestine De Soto, one of the victims, described how Calderon helped her find a place to live and prayed for her disabled son. She said she was charmed by him. De Soto and 27 others soon opened accounts with Calderon in amounts ranging from $1,800 to $6,500. Calderon owned Calderon Funeral Home, located most recently at 234 East Haley Street.

Though his embalmer’s and funeral home operating licenses expired in 2009, Calderon continued to run the business. The state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau investigated and ultimately renewed the licenses, but the mortician remained on its radar. A year later, after a few surprise visits, officials cited Calderon Funeral Home for multiple instances of gross negligence and professional misconduct, noting improperly stored bodies that had started to decompose in a holding room. His business closed soon thereafter, and Calderon promised to return the money to his clients. De Soto described how he kept saying, “I’ll put the check in the mail soon,” but never did and instead cut off contact completely with “no explanation, no apology, and no money.”

Thus far, De Soto is one of the 16 who have come forward to be part of the case. She believes more people haven’t spoken out because they are embarrassed and belong to the same congregation, but Cota encouraged any additional victims to contact the District Attorney’s Office.

CORRECTION: Calderon is accused of embezzling accounts opened while he was in business for himself, not while he was working for Welch-Ryce-Haider Funeral Chapel, as the original version of this article erroneously stated; nor is he accused of transferring accounts that were later embezzled from Welch-Ryce-Haider to McDermott-Crockett Mortuary. Welch-Ryce-Haider managing partner Stephen Gibson clarifies that Calderon opened his own funeral home after leaving Welch-Ryce-Haider; went out of business and worked for McDermott-Crockett; then after leaving their employ opened his own funeral home for a second time. The Independent sincerely apologizes for the error.

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