Green Acres ‘thefts’ may never be tallied

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 3, 2009

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.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

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. 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.