Johnstown

Johnstown funeral home owner posts bail following arraignment on 3 new charges

Brian Barnett, the former funeral director, arrives for his arraignment at Johnstown City Court on Tuesday.
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Brian Barnett, the former funeral director, arrives for his arraignment at Johnstown City Court on Tuesday.

Brian M. Barnett, the 35-year-old Johnstown funeral home owner accused of improperly handling human remains, has posted bail after he was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon. He was arraigned on three additional grand larceny charges in Johnstown City Court, where Hon. Traci DiMezza sent the case to Fulton County Court. As of Tuesday evening, the paperwork was still in the process of being sent over to the county court. DiMezza set bail at $7,500 cash and $50,000 bond during the arraignment, and Barnett was temporarily sent to the Fulton County Correctional Facility. DiMezza said part of her decision to set bail was Barnett’s alleged failure to consistently check in with the court as part of his pretrial release.

Barnett turned himself in to Johnstown Police last month after the department announced on social media that it had an active warrant out for his arrest. Barnett, the owner and former director of the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home at 15 North William St. in Johnstown, is accused of improperly storing four corpses and at least 18 containers of human remains. Barnett has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The remains were discovered in January after police say they received a complaint from a family on Jan. 10 unable to reach Barnett for several weeks after hiring him to conduct a cremation. Two of those bodies were found in Barnett’s garage, in what police described as an advanced state of decomposition.

Barnett allegedly neglected to cremate bodies and stored them at the funeral home in an attempt to evade investigation, according to court documents. He also allegedly gave families incorrect remains and took money for funeral services never provided, court papers say. In addition, Barnett is accused of concealing a decomposing human corpse on the first floor of a residence, “surrounded in children’s toys where the child readily had access,” court documents read.

Barnett faces multiple counts of concealing a human corpse, grand larceny, endangering the welfare of a child, and operating as a funeral director without a valid license, among other charges.

“For a lot of [the families] it’s traumatic,” said Johnstown Police Chief David Gilbo. “I get it because they have traveled around with some of these ashes thinking they were bringing their loved one on vacation with them or to a site they used to go to and then they find out it’s not their actual loved one. Morally, there is a bigger issue than the criminality of it. I’m sure this case will be talked about for a while.”

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Lori Trigg of Fonda is one of those affected loved ones. After her husband, Shawn Trigg, was killed in a motorcycle accident in March of 2020, Trigg contacted the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home to provide cremation services. Barnett had been recommended to Trigg by her friends at church. But from the outset, Trigg said Barnett was disorganized.

“One day it was one thing, the next day it was another thing. There were never concrete answers. He couldn’t give you a date, a time, nothing,” Trigg said. “He would ramble on and on and on about this, that and the other thing. He was just scattered, all over the place. He wasn’t focused.”

Now Trigg is upset because there is no way to easily and absolutely determine whether the urn she keeps on her mantel actually contains her husband’s remains.

“Do myself and my daughter have my husband’s ashes? That’s our main concern,” Trigg said.

Still, Trigg has found forgiveness and said she believes Barnett, whom she referred to as a “friend,” deserves to be helped.
“Maybe he got overwhelmed. Maybe it was a combination of everything: COVID was backing him up, I know he had money issues,” Trigg said. “But I do know he loves, loves his family. There is no doubt. He really is a great guy.”

While being interviewed before Tuesday’s court appearance, Trigg came face-to-face with Barnett as he entered Johnstown City Hall. Trigg asked him for answers, and he told her there were different forms of authority: his, hers and the truth. Barnett was clean-cut and well-dressed entering the hearing, wearing a diamond-patterned tie and a light brown pea coat that matched the highlights of his gelled hair.

Prior to being taken into custody on Tuesday, Barnett had been at the McPike Addiction Treatment Center in Utica, according to a source who did not want to be identified. McPike is a 68-bed inpatient facility on the campus of the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center. The center provides an individualized program for adult men and women with a chemical addiction, according to its website. Barnett’s lawyer, Ted Hartman, discussed Barnett being in rehab during the court appearance.

Barnett’s problems appear to have begun as early as 2019. The oldest felony complaint in the city court documents is an August 28, 2019, grand larceny charge that alleges Barnett stole $7,500 when he received payment for funeral services that were not completed.

The police investigation into Barnett revealed his license to practice as a funeral director was suspended in November 2021, while the funeral home itself has been unlicensed since June 2021.

Barnett was also cited by the New York State Department of Health, which oversees funeral home operations in the state, last October for failing to register his funeral director’s license in 2020. The licenses are required to be renewed every two years, according to state law.

In 2019 Barnett was fined $1,000 for registering the North William Street funeral home with the state 140 days late. The business remained in operation from July 1, 2019 to Nov. 18, 2019 despite not being properly registered, according to a stipulation order handed down last October by the Department of Health.

After Tuesday’s court appearance, Barnett’s attorney, Hartman, and prosecutor, Kathleen Hoffman, both declined to speak to the media.

Gilbo said even if Barnett is a troubled man, he must be held accountable.

“At some point there has to be professionalism. I get that he had some issues and he’s still trying to work out some issues, and hopefully it does get better. But it doesn’t negate the fact that at the time no thought was even given to the families. In some of these cases, he was handing them ashes that he knew was not their loved one,” Gilbo said. “That’s an intentional act.”

This month marks two years since Trigg lost her husband. She said forgiving Barnett is part of her healing process.
“He’s going through a really rough time,” she said. “It does bother him. And, yes, what he has done is terrible if he’s done it, but I want him to get helped.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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