For Immediate Release: January 17, 2012

Former Funeral Home Owner, Wife Arrested in Sylva

RALEIGH -- Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin today announced the arrests of Ronnie Austin Riddle, 56, and Thomasine Sheehan Riddle, 55, both of 360 Fairview Road, Sylva. Ronnie Riddle was charged with 1 3 counts of obtaining property by false pretense; Thomasine Riddle was charged with nine counts of obtaining property by false pretense.

Department of Insurance criminal investigators allege that between 1998 and 2009, the Riddles collected approximately $50,000 in premiums from at least 13 couples and individuals for preneed burial policies, but never submitted the policy applications and money to the respective insurance companies. During that time period, Ronnie Riddle owned and operated Melton Riddle Funeral Home in Sylva; his wife Thomasine worked there and assisted him. In 2009, there was a change in ownership of the funeral home, and it is now called Melton Funeral Home.

The Riddles turned themselves into authorities at the Jackson County Sheriff's Office on Jan. 17. Ronnie Riddle was placed under a $26,000 secured bond. Thomasine Riddle was placed under an $18,000 secured bond.

Investigators believe there may be more victims of the alleged scheme. If you have any information or believe you may be a victim, please contact the Department of Insurance's Criminal Investigations Division at 919-807-6840.

The Department of Insurance employs 20 sworn state law enforcement officers dedicated to investigating and prosecuting claims of insurance and bail bonding fraud. Since Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin took office in 2008, criminal investigators have received more than 13,500 complaints, resulting in 575 arrests, 320 criminal convictions, and more than 109 cases currently pending a court appearance. These arrests have resulted in more than $47.9 million in restitution and recoveries for victims.

An estimated 10 cents of every dollar paid in premiums goes toward the payment of fraudulent claims. To report suspected fraud, contact the Department of Insurance Criminal Investigations Division at 919-807-6840. Callers may remain anonymous. Information is also available at the Web site for the N.C. Dept. of Insurance.