For more than 50 years, the Smith-Albritten Funeral Home served the community of Cuthbert, Georgia. To keep costs low for the customer and the services swift, everything was done in-house including the flowers. The family-owned funeral home promoted an option called fast burial, a service that would bury the deceased less than a day after their death. By the early 2000s, rumors began to rumble throughout the community about the owner and his possible shady business practices. Authorities began to look into the business and make unannounced visits to the funeral home. The deeper authorities dove into the funeral records, the more questions arose. Many within the town were shocked when reports surfaced of the owner potentially defrauding the families of the deceased. In 2002, The Macon Telegraph reported that Dawson Mayor and funeral director Robert L. Albritten had been indicted by an Albany grand jury on 19 counts of insurance fraud and 9 counts of forgery. He had been mayor of the Terrell County town since January 1991.
About a month later, Dawson police charged Albritten with driving under the influence after his van was involved in an accident that sent a woman to the hospital. Albritten was an independent insurance agent and also owned Albritten’s Funeral Service, where several of the former residents he insured were sent for burial. He was charged with following too closely and DUI following the accident and taken to jail, where he recorded a blood alcohol level of .167, twice the legal limit.
The policies were written by Monumental Life Insurance Co. of Baltimore, Capital Security Insurance of Durham, N.C., and Public Savings Life Insurance Co. of Charleston, S.C. It’s unclear how much money Albritten collected from insurers The grand jury said that he purchased fraudulent life insurance policies on at least 10 elderly and mentally infirm residents of Top Quality Personal Care Home, an Albany assisted living facility. It is illegal in Georgia to take out a life insurance policy on someone without their knowledge. Albritten allegedly forged documents showing that the people consented to the policies, which ranged from $2,000 to $5,000, and he also collected commissions on the policies. State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said Albritten also received residents’ names from employees of the home and paid some of them when they sent deceased residents to him for burial. After being charged with insurance fraud and forgery, Albritten was released on $5,000 bail.
The former president of Top Quality, Pearlie L. Johnson, was indicted in 2001 on a murder charge after the 1999 death of an elderly resident who suffered malnutrition and dehydration. In July 2002, Johnson plead guilty to a charge of cruelty to a person over 65 and received six months at a diversion center, a $3,500 fine, and four years of probation. At the time of the indictment, three of the ten known victims had died. Albritten received names of the residents from employees of the nursing home, who received payments from Albritten’s Funeral Home when they sent deceased residents to him for burial. Johnson cooperated with investigators in the case and doesn’t face fraud charges. She gave the names of people to Albritten, and he then wrote the policies, according to authorities. In addition, Albritten was accused of using the money from 3 of the policies to pay for funeral services performed by his business. Each of the 19 counts of insurance fraud carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The victims had no immediate relatives, and all were considered wards of the state. Despite his legal issues, Albritten was re-elected mayor of Dawson in November 2002 by an overwhelming margin.
In January 2003, Albritten pled guilty to drunken driving and was fined $650, sentenced to 24 hours in jail, and ordered to perform 40 hours of community service and a year of probation. A few months later, he again made the news by winning $500,000 in a Georgia Lottery scratch-off game. The odds of winning were 480,000 to 1. His fraud case went to trial in September 2003, and a judge declared a mistrial in the case after a jury found him not guilty on 7 charges and deadlocked on another 21 charges. The jury acquitted Albritten on 6 counts of forgery and one count of insurance fraud after roughly two hours of deliberation. Visiting Judge George H. Bryant declared a mistrial shortly afterward.
In 2005, Albritten pled no contest to nine misdemeanor counts ending more than two years of insurance fraud allegations. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation and fined $9,000 under a plea bargain in which 12 felony counts were dismissed and 9 were reduced to misdemeanors charges of general violations of the state insurance code. In 2007, police arrested the Dawson mayor again and charged him with speeding and DUI for driving 90 MPH in a 55 MPH zone, and the mayor tested .11 on a breathalyzer test for alcohol. He was held in the Terrell County jail for about 5 hours, then released. Robert Albritten closed the Smith-Albritten Funeral Home in 2014 and continues to operate his funeral home in Dawson. The Cuthbert location was demolished in January 2023.
Thank you for reading. Please share the blog with your friends. I appreciate the support.
You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. For more amazing, abandoned places from across Georgia, check out my books that are available through Amazon.
I am astounded that this man is still allowed to operate a funeral home, especially in a near by town. This is absolutely scandalous in my opinion. Doesn’t the state or federal government regulate this industry? I’m just appalled that he can continue to prey on the innocent at such a vulnerable time. I am hoping that someone in the town where he currently operates will see your article & bring it to the attention of others. Thank you for the service you perform.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The funeral industry is regulated by a State Board comprised of funeral home directors and owners. Often, the only way these things get out is if the news media covers it. In rural areas, it is still all about who you know.
I want the engine from that Cadillac hurse! 🙏🙏