Funeral homes arranging burials at Green Acres

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 19, 2009

Much remains unresolved, but funeral directors have worked out a plan for continued use of Green Acres Memorial Park for burials of pre-paid clients and those who buy grave spaces in the private cemetery in the future.

In January, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann took legal steps to put the 58-year-old business under court control. The petition alleged the cemetery’s Texas owners could not show money paid in advance for vaults, markers and opening and closing services was being held in trust as required by state law.

While pre-sold deeds to grave spaces are being honored, those who pre-paid for services and merchandise will be asked to pay again.

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“People dealing with death should not be made to be penalized,” said Charles Riles of Riles Funeral Home. “But, there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Most if not all who were on the cemetery grounds staff have been fired, so funeral homes reportedly have arranged to have graves dug with shovels and then charge the cost of that service back to families. Green Acres has a backhoe, but it is broken.  “Few grave diggers dig by hand now,” Riles said.

Riles and John Kamman of Glenwood Funeral Home said they will also sell vaults, which are required in Green Acres covenants. Calls to Fisher Funeral Home were not returned. The outer containers will reportedly be sold at cost to those who have pre-paid.

No local funeral directors have any ownership interest in Green Acres and Kamman and Riles said the arrangement came by permission of local attorney Ken Rector, a partner in the Wheeless, Shappley, Bailess & Rector law firm who documents filed in the Chancery Clerk’s Office show was hired by the cemetery’s owners in February.

Completely unresolved is the matter of grave markers. Green Acres is a perpetual care cemetery requiring uniform stone slabs topped by bronze nameplates for graves. It’s not known what people who have paid for them are supposed to do. While funeral homes can arrange for grave opening and closing services and vaults, they don’t sell grave markers and have no dealings with the company that supplied Green Acres.

With spring approaching, mowing and weeding is another topic. State authorities have said some money remains in a fund for that purpose, but it’s not clear who will mow the 15-acre cemetery just east of the Beechwood Intersection.

Since initial court papers were filed by the Secretary of State’s Office Jan. 23, about 700 cemetery deeds and other Green Acres-related documents have been filed by those who hold contracts with the company dating back nearly 30 years, Chancery Clerk Dot McGee said. Most were filed in late January and February, which McGee said delayed her office’s routine work of scanning land records and other paperwork into the county’s central database. Records show 51 cemetery-related documents have been filed this month, as of March 13.

State law mandates 85 percent of pre-paid services for grave markers, vaults and other cemetery merchandise be deposited into the account, overseen by the Secretary of State’s Office’s Division of Business Regulation and Enforcement.

Green Acres’ license to sell preneed services was revoked by court order Feb. 12. In addition to Houston-based Mike Graham and Associates, and the now-deceased owner’s daughter, Stephanie, the list of defendants has grown to include Graham’s widow, Linda, Janice Tubbs, the employee identified in the state’s testimony as having oversight of the pre-need trust account at the time of the current probe, and employees Yolanda Horne, Donald R. Hughes and A.M. Brewer, who managed Graham-owned properties in Alabama.

Court holds have been placed on business and trust accounts held in Mississippi, including Vicksburg, and Florida. The state has sought to have power over the pre-need trust account placed in local cemetery officials’ hands or a designee of the state. Company representatives have not appeared in court.

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


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at