November 15, 2010 | 8:00am
When Lazaro Morera's father passed away October 29, the unemployed Cuban-American thought he had the funeral covered. He was wrong. Despite having paid $2,540 to Funeraria Latina Nacional at 151 NW 37th Ave. for his dad's prearranged burial six years ago, the funeral home's owner, Rafaiy Alkhalifa, would not honor the contract, Morera claims.
"He told me that there were other funeral homes I could go to," Morera says, recounting his meeting with Alkhalifa the morning his dad died. "He told me honoring the contract would be a burden for him."
The funeral home owner referred Morera to the Department of Financial Services, which oversees the monies Alkhalifa has been paying back the state after pleading no contest in 2005 to stealing $500,000 from Florida's preneed trust fund, which allows families to finance funerals through a down payment and monthly installments. Alkhalifa had been ordered to give the fund $150,000 and was barred from selling prearranged funeral services. But department officials told Morera there was only $800 in the trust account.
Upset, Morera, who was laid off in June and whose wife has been on maternity leave for three months, confronted Alkhalifa at his office inside Funeraria Latina. "He kept complaining that he had already been crucified by the state," Morera recalls. "He called his probation officer on the phone, screamed at her to tell me that he doesn't need to honor the contract."
Alkhalifa, whose sketchy business practices were chronicled in a Miami New Times
cover story this past August 26, declined to comment. In a previous interview, Alkhalifa emphatically denied wrongdoing, blaming the theft from the fund on a former employee who had opened a separate bank account to deposit customers' checks. "Instead of putting the money in a trust account, it went to him," Alkhalifa said. "Since it was my business license, the state came after me."
On November 1, Morera filed a complaint with the financial services division against Alkhalifa and was informed that Funeraria's owner is facing a disciplinary hearing December 2 for other consumer complaints. Department spokeswoman Nina Ashley says she cannot comment about pending investigations.
Meanwhile, Morera says he had to borrow $3,100 from family and friends to bury his father with Vior Funeral Home, which is located next door to Alkhalifa's place. "This guy is preying on the Hispanic community," Morera seethes. "He should be put out of business."