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People thought they were making payments on funeral pre-arranged funeral services, but they were part of a ponzi scheme.

ST. LOUIS, MO -- Payment plans are good when they work. You pay a little at a time, so you won't feel the pain of one lump payment. But thousands of people thought they were making payments on funeral arrangements, But still felt pain when they found out they were victims of an elaborate ponzi scheme.

U.S. Postal Inspector Donald Washington said, "Our suspect took the money that was supposedly for the pre-arranged funeral services and used it for his own personal gain."

Doug Cassity and his partners were charged with defrauding people out of millions of dollars while running a prepaid funeral services company called NPS.

Investigators say nationwide losses were almost $500 million. While the financial toll is extensive, the emotional toll was heartbreaking.

Washington said, "When our victims came in to claim the pre-arranged services that they paid for to bury their loved one… there was no money available… this was very difficult for them to deal with."

Inspectors say the long-term scam was run like a ponzi scheme – new clients were paying off old claims.

Donald Otto Jr with the Funeral Directors Association said, "For a long time the payments were made by people and you heard funeral homes saying "they are paying me right on time" and again. That is not unusual in a scheme as proven by the us prosecutors office."

Until the money began running out and NPS started making desperate offers.

Otto Jr said, "Then, just before things began to collapse the NPS announced a new program instead of giving you the growth on your money you were supposed to get, instead you get a new casket."

By then, NPS was under federal investigation. Total number of victims: four thousand

Washington said, "They misappropriated those funds by using those funds to buy expensive gifts for their own personal gain such as cars, homes, and trips. When the victims needed that money during a time when their loved ones need to be buried, those funds were no longer available."

Doug Cassity received a nine year prison sentence. His son got five years. The two men and other partners were also ordered to pay more than $400 million in restitution.

End of life is a hard issue to talk about, but just last month, 2 Wants to Know asked an elder law attorney to give us some tips on starting the conversation and the checklist of things you should have.

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