March 9, 1999
Pols Try To Bury Funeral Probe

Austin — It’s enough to make customers of Houston-based Service Corp. International (SCI), the world’s largest funeral chain, roll over in their graves.

In early 1998, Texas Funeral Service Commission (TFSC) began investigating complaints that SCI was entrusting stiffs to unlicensed embalming companies. Four months after an April 1998 raid of SCI properties for subpoenaed documents, a TFSC panel recommended a record $445,000 fine against SCI. The dispute is in mediation.

Last month, the TFSC fired its executive director, Eliza May, who had the audacity to check campaign contribution reports for clues about why so many politicians were intervening on SCI’s behalf into an ongoing agency investigation.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate funding for the TFSC.

What follows is what Eliza May would have found if she had further pursued SCI’s political money trail.

SCI’s Grim Reapers
From 1996 through 1998, SCI PAC poured $113,061 into the campaigns of Texas candidates for statewide and legislative offices; the PAC spent 75 percent of this money  ($84,461) in the 1998 cycle. Top recipients are often the same politicians who intervened with TFSC on SCI’s behalf.

Gov. George Bush received 31 percent of this SCI PAC money, or $35,00 (he also received $1,100 from SCI Director Clifton H. Morris).

Bush was followed by former and current Lt. Governors Bob Bullock and Rick Perry, who each took about $10,000 from SCI PAC. Perry separately received another $10,716 from three top SCI executives.

Bush Whacked
Bush’s office intervened at least twice on SCI’s behalf. May said SCI CEO Robert Waltrip visited her agency in April 1998 and demanded that everyone involved in the SCI raid five days earlier be fired. Waltrip also said he was on his way to the Governor’s office.

The following month, TFSC Chair Charles McNeil, then-agency general counsel Jeff Schrader and May were summoned to a meeting in the office of Bush Executive Assistant Joe Allbaugh (a TFSC stenographer was not admitted).

May said other participants included Bush General Counsel Margaret Wilson, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, Waltrip and SCI lobbyist Johnnie B. Rogers Jr.

By May’s account, Whitmire grilled TFSC officials about the intent of the SCI probe and who had ordered a raid of SCI facilities for subpoenaed documents on Good Friday 1998.

May said she took responsibility for the Good Friday raid, but that TFSC personnel otherwise refused to answer questions because the SCI investigation was ongoing. May called the meeting an attempt to intimidate TFSC officials who were key to the SCI probe.

At $5,000, Sen. Whitmire is tied with Kenny Marchant, D-Coppell, for the title of being the Legislature’s largest recipient of SCI PAC money.

After the “intimidation” meeting, Whitmire wrote the Texas Attorney General’s Office (A.G.) in June 1998, seeking opinions on whether or not:

Whitmire’s request is still pending at the A.G.’s office.

As it happens, A.G. John Cornyn and his defeated opponent, Jim Mattox, were SCI’s next favorite candidates for statewide office, receiving $2,000 and $2,600 respectively.

Inside Waltrip’s House
SCI PAC gave another  $3,355 to Kyle Janek, R-Houston, including $1,855 for a May 1998 Janek reception at Houston’s River Oaks Country Club.

Janek had other SCI ties. In personal financial disclosures filed with the TEC in March 1998, Janek reported a liability of $10,000 to $25,000 to the “Waltrip Children’s Trust.”

Janek says he is a close friend of the husband of Waltrip’s daughter. He says he rented the couple’s Houston home, which is apparently owned by the Waltrip trust, when the couple moved to Europe. Janek says he no longer rents the property.

Janek also reported owning 1,000 to 5,000 shares of SCI stock in 1997 (yielding $500 to $5,000 in dividends). Over the past two years, the value of that stock ranged from a high of between $47,000 and $235,000 in July 1998 to a low of between $1,500 and $75,000 after SCI stock tanked in early 1999.

Top Beneficiaries
of SCI PAC Bequests
Politician SCI $
George Bush $35,000
Bob Bullock* $10,000
Rick Perry $9,858
Ken Marchant $5,000
John Whitmire $5,000
Michael Galloway* $4,848
Kyle Janek  $3,355
Kevin Brady* $2,600
Jim Mattox* $2,500
Debra Danburg  $2,500
Pete Laney $2,000
Steve Ogden $2,000
John Cornyn $2,000
Carole K. Rylander $2,000
David Sibley $2,000
* Lost or Retired
 Janek’s interest in the funeral industry goes beyond his personal finances. During a House Appropriations Committee hearing last week in which members decided to eliminate TFSC’s bud-get, witnesses say Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Janek led the charge against the agency.

Since 1995, the Lege has passed several funeral bills introduced by Janek, a physician. A 1995 Janek bill amended a law pro-tecting the public from unqualified embalmers. The bill allowed doctors—as well as embalmers—to supervise people practicing with provisional embalming licenses. It also ended the requirement that a representative of the A.G.’s Office advise the TFSC during informal settlements of consumer complaints against embalmers.

In the past, the A.G.’s office has been more protective of funeral consumers than the TFSC. Two private lawsuits and an A.G. inquiry in the early 1990s cracked down on Dallas funeral homes (including SCI’s) that failed to notify family members that they were jobbing out bodies to student embalmers.

“Deregulated Death”
All the political pressure exerted on TFSC on behalf of the funeral chain reached a finale last week when the House Appropriations Committee voted to unplug the regulatory agency from its life-support system by zeroing out its budget. It would be a poetic injustice if SCI winds up officiating the funeral of its regulators.

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Texans for Public Justice is a non-partisan, non-profit policy & research organization
 which tracks the influence of money in politics.

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