Green Acres burials continuing during investigation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Burials will continue at Green Acres Memorial Park while the inquiry into missing funds continues, the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed Tuesday. That includes sales of new lots and honoring of deeds already owned.

To contact the Secretary of State’s office about a claim, click here

However, people who prepaid for merchandise, such as vaults, marble and bronze markers or any goods will likely face paying again.

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Monday, Dave Scott, chief of Business Regulation and Enforcement for the Mississippi Secretary of State, sent an e-mail to local funeral directors saying that pre-need funds totaling $221.90 in the commercial cemetery’s account are insufficient to pay for goods and services. No specific directive on what to tell the cemetery’s clients is given, but directors are asked to “be aware” of the shortage as they finalize funeral plans with families.

Green Acres personnel are maintaining the grounds and are opening and closing graves, a service for which some plot owners have prepaid and some have not, but the state is unsure how long they will continue to do so, Scott said. Funeral directors are being asked to continue usual communication with the cemetery staff, as this will enable Green Acres to inform chancery court on its business operations as required in a court order imposing strict oversight, Scott said.

Funeral directors had feared a total shutdown of burials at the cemetery by the state. Such action would have prompted perhaps hundreds of clients to reconsider funeral plans paid for more than 20 years ago, in some cases.

Directors downplayed any misunderstandings stemming from earlier word from the state that indicated burials would be stopped. They expressed relief that services at the cemetery will continue.

“This helps the consumer,” said John Kamman of Glenwood Funeral Home. “I’m sure it’s subject to change. It’s not set in stone.”

Charles Riles of Riles Funeral Home, said he is troubled at the prospect of being the one to tell the cemetery’s clients they will have to pay for pre-need items a second time.

“I think (the state) is trying to make this equitable for everybody,” Riles said. “I’m alarmed people will have to suffer for this.”

All Vicksburg funeral homes have used the private cemetery when requested by families, but there is no ownership relation between any of the funeral homes and the cemetery.

An injunction to revoke the Green Acres’ license was issued Thursday by Chancellor Vicki Roach Barnes, the most recent step in court actions begun in January after state officials discovered one trust account, which was supposed to contain the money prepaid by clients, was nearly empty.

Court orders have also been placed on business and trust accounts held by Green Acres’ Houston-based parent company, Mike Graham and Associates, set up in Mississippi — including Vicksburg — and Florida. No representative of the owners has appeared in court.

Approximately $207,000 remains in the cemetery’s perpetual care account, set up to handle mowing and landscaping, according to court testimony. The balance is about $13,000 less than where it stood in September, according to court documents.

Seven additional funeral industry firms in Mississippi were targeted for action by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office. Corporate reporting violations alleged at Green Acres were the most serious in terms of the total of missing money.

The cemetery was established in 1955 and operated by Joe Varner for 30 years until his death in 1989. After a succession of operators, it was purchased by Graham in 2001. A number of liens and personal lawsuits had been filed against the company in the years leading up to the current probe, according to Warren County Chancery Court records.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at