For Immediate Release: May 11, 2009
Source: THE VICKSBURG POST
Cemetery situation is unsettling
An amount that may never be calculated precisely is how much money clients
of Green Acres Memorial Park paid once and will be required to pay again.
While people have gone to prison for taking less than $20 that wasn't
theirs, another aspect of the Green Acres fiasco is that no one seems to be
accountable for what appears to be wholesale fraud involving what now appears to
be $1 million or more in advance payments made by families doing business with
the private cemetery.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Dave Scott, chief of Hosemann's
Business Regulation and Enforcement Division, have performed admirably in
bringing the case to light and trying to piece together Byzantine financial
records to determine what money went where over a period of several years. They
have plenty to do other than try to send somebody to jail, which, by statute, is
outside their authority.
And while criminal prosecution has not been ruled out, it's hard to know
whom to prosecute. The Texan who owned Green Acres, Mike Graham, is deceased,
and there's little reason to believe his heirs had any knowledge of the
situation in Vicksburg.
Scores of families - no one knows how many - went to the cemetery office
to buy burial spaces. Their deeds remain valid and, it appears, at least some of
the payment price was reserved to pay for ongoing mowing and maintenance of the
cemetery on U.S. Highway 80.
The victims are those who also prepaid varying amounts for grave opening
and closing services, vaults, markers and other merchandise. Their money has
been siphoned away.
Mississippi now has statutory oversight for trust accounts of the type
Green Acres told clients would be used to preserve their funds. There are
reporting requirements as part of the oversight, and it was failing to meet the
reporting requirements that eventually led to Hosemann's action. Green Acres is
now in receivership, operating "normally."
Even though vendors are offering discounts to clients who were bilked out
of their money, the whole situation remains unsettling for at least one other
reason. Taking money under false pretenses or converting it to unauthorized
purposes is always bad. But it's worse to take advantage of those who are
grieving or those trying to keep expenses related to their own deaths from
falling to their heirs. There's no "good part" to this story.