SIKESTON -- Those who paid Mike Graham and Associates in advance for caskets and vaults may end up with nothing to show for it.
Local officials will keep things running at area cemeteries abandoned by the Texas company but it is unclear what those who prepaid Mike Graham and Associates for caskets and vaults will be buried in.
"There are no caskets or vaults available, according to Mike Graham's attorney," said Mark McMillion at Nunnelee Funeral Chapel. "Those people that bought those are not going to have any recourse in getting a casket or vault from the company. It's an extremely large can of worms that's been opened."
McMillion said funeral homes receive random, unannounced audits annually -- sometimes even twice per year -- from the state Office of Endowed Care Cemeteries to safeguard consumers from just this sort of situation.
Second-party vendors of caskets and vaults such as Mike Graham and Associates, however, are not subjected to regular annual inspections due to budget constraints, he said.
"These are the sorts of things funeral homes hate to see happen," McMillion said. "Our hands are tied at the funeral homes. We're not going to be able to supply caskets and vaults at no charge to people who have purchased merchandise somewhere else."
Second-party sellers "should be under the same stipulations as a funeral home doing the same type of business," McMillion said.
In August 2005, a consent preliminary injunction was obtained by Attorney General Jay Nixon which halted the sale of all prepaid goods and services by Mike Graham and Associates due to complaints about undelivered grave markers.
Investigations at that time revealed that in numerous cases customer payments were not put in trust accounts as required by law but were diverted for other uses.
John Fougere, spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office, said the company was recently unable to meet its payroll obligations. The caretakers for the local cemeteries owned by Mike Graham and Associates, Woodrow and Deborah Speed, reportedly turned in their keys Friday afternoon.
"They are not in any way responsible for this -- they were doing what they were told to do," McMillion said of the Speeds. "They helped us and other people in straightening things out. This is no reflection on them; no one faulted them for this stuff going on."
McMillion said this is a particularly terrible situation as victims are also dealing with the grief of a deceased loved one in most cases.
"It's really sad this had to happen in a town our size," he said.