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Strunk Funeral Home legal battle gets more complicated

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of November 18, 2021)

While the lawsuits stemming from the disputed sale of the Strunk Funeral Home & Crematory properties in Vero Beach and Sebastian crawl through the court system, one regulatory board member asked the state to investigate the legitimacy of the funeral homes’ license to operate its business.

Glenn Strunk owned and operated the business for 47 years before he died in February 2020. Shortly before his death, Strunk gave the funeral home business to his three adult children. His daughter Mary Kopchak took over as the company’s president.

However, 21 months after Strunk’s death, the Florida Board of Funerals, Cemeteries and Consumer Services still hasn’t approved the change of ownership.

The Strunk siblings applied for the required approvals, but withdrew their application after it was challenged by their stepmother of 40-plus years, Strunk’s widow Dorothy.

In July, as the board was set to take up the matter of the application, Dorothy Strunk’s Tallahassee-based attorney successfully argued that her husband’s death made it impossible for the “current owner” to sign the document, which is required by law. The board, though, allowed her stepchildren to continue operating the business under their existing license.

That same lawyer, Wendy Wiener, now represents James Young Jr., whose Millennium Funeral Home & Crematory in June paid Dorothy Strunk $3.1 million for the land and buildings where the Strunk business operates.

Wiener believes the board erred in 2020, when it permitted the Strunk siblings to continue operating the business without an approved transfer of ownership, and she said their license should be revoked.

“They’ve been operating without the board’s approval, and they should not have a license, but they do,” Wiener said. “My opinion is that they cannot lawfully operate the business without the board’s approval of the change of ownership, but they will continue to operate until the state takes some action to prevent them from doing so.”

Reached via text message last weekend, Kopchak’s brother, Kevin Strunk, said the board initially recommended the approval of the siblings’ application, but the members backed off when Millennium “created a stink.”

He said the board agreed to postpone any action on the application “until the matter was settled in court.”

Wiener said “at least one board member” last week raised the possibility of revoking the Strunk siblings’ license, but the panel’s attorney warned that, since the item wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda, any vote on such an action would deprive the Strunks of due process.

“The board needs to give the affected party an opportunity to prepare a response,” Wiener said.

Instead, a board member asked the Florida Department of Financial Services to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ownership change and the status of the Strunk license.

According to the minutes from last week’s meeting in Tallahassee, the board member wants to “ensure that there is not unlicensed/illegal activity underway now under the originally issued Strunk entity licenses.”

During the meeting, the board denied Millennium’s application for a license to operate on the properties currently occupied by the Strunk business.

Wiener said she didn’t know if the department will follow through with an investigation or when the board, which meets monthly, will revisit the Strunk siblings’ application.

“What happened at the last meeting doesn’t necessarily trigger another appearance for me at the next meeting, so I don’t know when they’ll put this on the agenda again,” she said. “But I believe after the last meeting, the board will proceed with more urgency.”

Meanwhile, the legal battle between Young and the Strunk siblings continues.

Circuit Judge Janet Croom earlier this month consolidated all the claims and counterclaims in the parties’ lawsuits into one case that isn’t expected to go to trial “any time soon.”