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Undertaker Arrested in Official Stamp Misuse

July 14, 1985|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

A Carson man who hauled and stored dozens of corpses for one of the nation's largest cremation and burial companies has been arrested after a metal stamp used to certify death certificates was found in his home.

Eugene J. Hawkins, who for the past several years has worked as an independent contractor for the Neptune Society Corp., was taken into custody after a stamp believed to have been taken from a county health facility was discovered during a raid by deputies, Los Angeles sheriff's detectives reported.

Hawkins, 35, was booked July 2 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud by using the stamp to certify copies of death certificates. He was released after posting $5,000 bail.

Hawkins, who has neither a home nor business phone listing, could not be reached for comment. His business on El Segundo Boulevard in Los Angeles was locked and appeared deserted one afternoon last week, and no one was at his home.

Used to Certify Copies

According to investigators, stamps such as the one confiscated at Hawkins' residence are used by county Health Department officials in more than 20 offices to certify copies of death certificates. The copies, which also are initialed by a department employee, are typically requested by a deceased person's heirs to resolve probate or insurance matters. Original copies of death certificates, which are filled out and signed by a doctor or coroner when a person dies, are kept by state health officials in Sacramento.

Sheriff's Detective Jacqueline Franco said a person who possesses a stamp could use it to "create a death," allowing a person, for example, to fraudulently collect on the life insurance policy of a living person. A person also could use a stolen stamp to avoid paying the $4 fee the county charges to certify copies.

Hawkins was arrested after a two-month investigation by deputies that was launched after copies of death certificates bearing the stamp's seal turned up at the Health Department, Franco said. The copies, which were mailed to the department, apparently by accident, were determined to be fraudulent after it was learned that the initials of Health Department employees had been forged on the documents, she said.

Neptune Society Offices

At the same time Hawkins' home on Gladwick Street was raided, deputies also served search warrants at his business and the Burbank offices of the Neptune Society, Franco said. Hawkins, owner of Hawkins Professional Mortuary Services, has stored and transported bodies for Neptune for at least three years, she said.

The detective said investigators are studying numerous death certificates confiscated from Neptune for bodies that Hawkins is believed to have handled for the company. Investigators are attempting to determine whether the stamp was used on the certificates, and if so, for what reason, she said.

Franco said there is no evidence that Neptune Society officials or employees had any knowledge about the stolen stamp or participated in any fraud.

Emanuel Weintraub, president of the Neptune Society, said his company has cooperated with the Sheriff's Department in its investigation. He said Hawkins did work for Neptune in the Los Angeles area "off and on" for a number of years, but said the company stopped doing business with him once it learned about the department's investigation.

Brother on Trail

Sheriff's deputies identified Hawkins as the son of James Hawkins, a Watts grocer who gained national attention in 1983 for his fight against street gangs. His brother, James Hawkins Jr., currently is standing trial on a murder charge in connection with the September, 1983, slaying of a gang member after an angry exchange outside the family's market.

Gardena police and fire officials said Eugene Hawkins had operated in that city until a predawn New Year's Day blaze in 1984 gutted his mortuary services business on Halldale Avenue. The fire, which caused an estimated $50,000 damage, was classified as being of suspicious origin and is still under investigation.

Firefighters reported that the building had been broken into and that the front door was open when they arrived.

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