Green Acres sold to Sharp

Published 12:06 pm Thursday, October 7, 2010

Green Acres Memorial Park will be sold to Vicksburg businessman Harry Sharp, a court ruled this morning.

Chancellor Vicki Roach Barnes ordered that the private burial ground off U.S. 80 be sold to Sharp, who bid $135,000 to take the troubled property out of state receivership.

“The confirmation of the sale of this property puts us one step closer to getting the state out of the cemetery business,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said in a news release this morning.

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The bid by Sharp, a former cemetery operator in Florida, includes the $135,000 cash payment, 10 percent of the pre-tax profits of the cemetery up to $100,000, about $51,000 in improvements to the existing facilities and a 30 percent discount on memorials, opening charges and vaults.

Sharp’s bid was the highest of three offered, Hosemann has said.

“I’m just delighted with the outcome of this lengthy process,” Sharp said this morning. “I’m looking forward to getting on with the upgrading of the cemetery, getting it back in the shape it once was.”

Sharp was chosen by the state to run the 43-acre burial ground in March 2009, two months after the state filed suit against the cemetery’s Houston-based former owners, Mike Graham & Associates. The state attempted to track down more than $373,000 missing from the corporation’s pre-need trust account that was supposed to hold funds paid for markers, vaults and other merchandise.

The disappearance of the funds forced those who had held plots for years and paid to pre-arrange funerals to pay for the items a second time.

Mike Graham died in 2007 and had apparently left daily operations of Green Acres and other cemeteries to his wife, Linda, and daughter, Stephanie, neither of whom responded to the state’s questions in person during the 19 months leading up to the court-ordered auction. One of Green Acres’ bank accounts in Mississippi was used as a clearing account to send money to the company’s other holdings, according to testimony given by the state.

The inquiry by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office did not find the missing money and no charges have been filed against the former owners.

The state tapped Sharp for the job due to his cemetery management experience in Florida before he purchased The Duff Green Mansion and moved to Vicksburg in 1985.

Seven other cemeteries in Mississippi were the subject of separate civil actions filed in 2009 by the Secretary of State’s Office, with Green Acres missing the most money.

“Green Acres was the first, and hopefully the last, cemetery to be placed into receivership by our office,” Hosemann said.

Laws enacted in 2009 created a “loss guarantee fund,” into which $10 is deposited from every pre-need funeral contract sold in the state so any future pre-need contracts deemed worthless can be covered. It is managed by a five-person advisory board to which Sharp was appointed by Hosemann, a Vicksburg native, in December.

Sharp is chairman of Vicksburg’s Main Street Program and owns a number of buildings downtown.