New charges in Johnstown funeral home case

JOHNSTOWN – Police Chief David Gilbo says he’s added at least 26 more charges against former funeral home director Brian Barnett, including a class C felony of grand larceny.

“It’s basically – in our view – it’s a scheme to defraud,” said Chief Gilbo. “He’s charging people, saying they buried a human corpse, when the fact was the human corpse was in the garage.”

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There is a thick binder of documentation in the case against Barnett.

Chief Gilbo says the total larcenies add up to more than $60,000, and involve 21 families. He said it’s important all the families, the victims, are heard.

The investigation was a complicated one.

“We’ve gone to gravesites with the coroner’s office to probe for cremated remains for a male subject. We found cremated remains that happened to come back to a female subject, and then it’s like, okay, this is this person– who’s in that grave?” said Chief Gilbo.

Police say they found decomposing bodies and unlabeled remains at the Ehle and Barnett Funeral Home in Johnstown in February.

Last month, Barnett was scheduled for a possible plea deal. The police chief objected to the plea, saying at the time that his investigation was not complete, and a judge postponed the court appearance.

Gilbo praises his investigators and the coroner’s office for their hard work on the difficult aspects of the case.

“It’s the ones where you see a funeral on the first, and the crematorium is not until the third. Okay, if you had the funeral, who did you give them? Because the family says they got ashes and the body wasn’t even cremated until two days later,” he said.

Now, police have forwarded their work to the district attorney.

“We haven’t decided yet what the best course is yet,” said Fulton County District Attorney Amanda Nellis. “But now that we do have this more documentation that we want to look into, we will definitely be going back and re-evaluating what the initial plea offer was.”

She says prosecutors are reviewing the new paperwork, and that new charges against Barnett are very likely.

“I’d say to the families again that my heart goes out to them,” Nellis said. “And I am thankful that they met with us, that they have now either decided to come forward or have provided more information.”

The earlier plea agreement was for two and a third to seven years. Nellis says an upgraded charge of grand larceny could carry a sentence of 5-15 years.

The police chief says he’d like the state to make some changes in how funeral homes are reviewed and licensed, and more communication with local municipalities in that process.