HOUSTON -- For nearly two years, authorities say a Houston man was pitching peace of mind prepaid funeral and cremation contracts to those wanting their final affairs in order.

And for nearly two years, authorities say Larry Payette took Texans money and ran.

But Payette is no longer on the run. He s in jail, charged with two first-degree felonies that carry a sentence from five to 99 years in prison, or life upon conviction.

The 11 News Defenders first exposed the alleged shady dealings of Payette s west Houston business, Dignified Affordable Cremation and Funeral, last June.

It was then that several elderly couples complained about how they felt duped into signing up for the funeral contracts, because they said Payette portrayed himself as a reverend.

It s evil, said victim Sonja Knowlton.

It seemed like it was up on the up-and-up, added her husband, Brian Knowlton.

You'd think someone who's a minister would be truthful, and wouldn't be trying to gyp somebody, said victim Dorothy Szymcyk.

But that's exactly what the Texas Department of Banking claimed Payette did to more than 100 victims. Some paid a chunk of their retirement savings, more than $17,000, for funeral services that they were never going to get.

The Department of Banking claimed Payette did not have a licensed state permit to sell prepaid funeral contracts and had not placed the money received from consumers in trust, as required by law. Banking regulators issued a cease-and-desist order in February of 2009, requiring he pay restitution in the amount of $329,599 and civil penalties of $248,000.

But last year, victims told 11 News they didn t expect to recoup any of their losses.

If we don't collect, I'd still like to see the guy in jail, said Richard Szymcyk.

We hope to give them that opportunity, said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Harry Lawrence.

Lawrence said investigators arrested Payette Thursday morning at his southwest Houston home. The veteran prosecutor of more than 30 years said this case ranks near the top of some of the most egregious theft schemes he s dealt with in his career, particularly because many of the victims were elderly.

Hopefully it will send a message to him and others who are thinking about doing this, that they will be prosecuted, Lawrence said.

Payette didn t talk much whenthe Defenderscaught up with him last summer.

11 News: You have nothing to say for yourself?

Payette: Nothing, nothing.

11 News: You took all this money and...

Payette: You need to talk to my attorney, just leave it alone, I'm finished, OK?

Victims said they certainly hope Payette is finished. They said a man preying on the elderly doesn't need to be on the streets.

The prepaid funeral contract industry is booming in Texas. The Department of Banking had estimated last year approximately 800,000 Texans hold contracts worth $3 billion.

You can verify if a business has a valid permit to sell prepaid funeral contracts by contacting the Texas Department of Banking at 877-276-5554.

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