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Sunday, Apr. 20, 2014

Cemetery lawsuit still alive in court

Thursday, May 18, 2006

SIKESTON -- There is hope on the horizon for the Garden of Memories and other area cemeteries owned by an out-of-state holding company.

The lawsuit filed against Mike W. Graham and Associates, a company based in Houston, Texas, which owns the Garden of Memories and Memorial Park cemeteries in Sikeston and the Forest Hills Cemetery in Morley, is still in progress.

"We are still litigating this case," confirmed John Fougere, spokesperson for Attorney General Jay Nixon. "Our goal is to get consumers what they paid for, make sure they receive what they put their money down for."

Fougere said he could not go into any more detail because "it's still ongoing litigation."

The suit is related to recovering money for prepaid grave markers, monuments and other items which were not delivered.

A consent preliminary injunction under which the company agreed to stop selling headstones, plots and vaults where prepayment is required was obtained by the Attorney General in August 2005.

This was followed by a preliminary injunction obtained in September 2005 by the Sikeston law firm, Blanton, Rice, Sidwell, Nickell, Cozean and Collins LLC, preventing the transfer of assets from the cemeteries while the firm pursued a lawsuit related to maintenance at the cemeteries.

The suit, filed Aug. 25, 2005, in the Scott County Circuit Court on behalf of Charles Ulmer, Charles DeWitt and Genie Rice, alleged the cemeteries' owners have failed to maintain and repair individual plots and the cemetery as a whole as obligated by publicly representing itself as a perpetual care cemetery which maintains a minimum endowed care and maintenance fund.

In January, this lawsuit was taken up by the Attorney General's office, which has more resources to dedicate to the suit, according to Joe Blanton.

Blanton said his firm was pursuing the lawsuit without compensation on behalf of the community and will continue to assist the Attorney General in any way they can.

There is also the possibility problems at the cemeteries could be resolved another way.

"In addition to the legal side proceeding, we are also working with an individual who has expressed an interest in acquiring the properties in the state of Missouri," said Ron Bockencamp, an investigator with the Attorney General's office.

In the meantime, the city of Sikeston could end up mowing the Garden of Memories and Memorial Park cemeteries and billing Mike W. Graham and Associates again as grass typically grows faster than the wheels of justice turn.

In September 2005, city officials approved mowing the cemeteries and billing the owners.

"A supervisor out of the street division has been assigned to monitor the cemeteries," said Linda Lowes, director of governmental services for the city. "He does that routinely throughout the spring and thus far has not found the cemeteries to be out of compliance. He reports directly to the city manager on this issue."

Last year, the city billed Mike W. Graham and Associates $10,065 for mowing by city crews. "As to date, there has been no collection and it had been referred to our city attorney, Chuck Leible," Lowes said.

Office of Endowed Care Cemeteries was unable to confirm whether their office's investigation was still in progress or not.