Compromise reached on Burr Oak control

September 22, 2009 2:15:09 PM PDT
A judge has struck a compromise between the owner of beleaguered Burr Oak Cemetery and the Illinois Attorney General's Office.Illinois AG Lisa Madigan was fighting Perpetua Holdings for control over the cemetery. The attorney general argued that Perpetua's negligence should preclude it from controlling the historic graveyard. Perpetua gained de facto control of the property again after filing for bankruptcy. Prior to that, the Cook County Sheriff's Office and a court-appoint caretaker were overseeing the cemetery.

On Tuesday, a judge appointed an independent manager, Howard Korenthal, to run the cemetery. Korenthal is a management consultant from the Morris Anderson Company in Chicago with experience in turning around troubled companies.

"What we wanted was the current management to be taken out and what this does is put in an independent chief operating officer to do that," said Paul Gaynor, IL Attorney General's Office.

The judge also decided that Roman Szabelskiwho who was brought in to run Burr Oak Cemetery temporarily, as a court-appointed receiver, should remain as a consultant. Szabelskiwho runs the Catholic Cemeteries in Chicago.

The owner of Burr Oak, Perpetua Holdings, has said it shouldn't be held responsible for the alleged actions of those workers.

Some of those with loved ones buried at Burr Oak say the move is a step in the right direction.

"I think it's great. It means someone is in place to oversee what happens out there and will move forward to get it reopened," said Edward Boone.

"I know he wouldn't enter into an agreement if he didn't think it was a good deal and it moves things forward better than Perpetua," said Tony Burroughs who has family buried at Burr Oak.

When the cemetery will reopen was not determined on Tuesday. Perpetua will pay for the new independent manager but he cannot be removed unless the court agrees to do so.

Burr Oak has been closed since July.

Ill. Congressman pushes for guidelines

Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush is sponsoring a bill that sets guidelines for services provided by the cemetery and funeral home industry.

Following the Burr Oak discovery in July, Rush held hearings and promised to find some way to avoid another Burr Oak by protecting consumers. On Monday, he introduced a bill that gives more teeth to an already existing Federal Trade Commission rule that prohibits deceptive practices by the funeral industry. The bill will require cemeteries to keep clear records.

It's been almost three months since four Burr Oak Cemetery workers were arrested for illegally digging up bodies in order to resell burial plots. Since then, emotions have run high and families of loved ones buried at this Alsip cemetery have felt ignored.

Congressman Rush hopes to change that by introducing federal legislation that protects the consumer.

"The new law is designed to prohibit cemetery operators from acting unfairly on their dealings with consumers," said Congressman Rush.

Rush said the bill would require cemeteries to provide customers with all the rules and regulations of that cemetery, as well as give consumers a clear explanation of the plot they purchased. The legislation would also improve cemetery record keeping, something that was not done at Burr Oak.

"Cemeteries would also be required to keep clear records of all burials and entombments and internments and make those records available to fed, state, local authorities," said Rush.

Funeral home and cemetery owners welcome the legislation.

"Many times if there is a problem at cemetery, the funeral home is blamed. So this legislation will take the responsibility away from us," said Spencer Leak, funeral home owner.

"We have been asking for a number of years that families come to the cemetery and pick out the location that they choose for their loved ones," said Willie Carter, cemetery owner.

Congressman Rush believes his bill will prevent another Burr Oak scandal from happening. Roxie Williams' father is buried at Burr Oak. She is hopeful the federal legislation will protect others from what she has been through.

"This is great news for my families and families like mine, who got no answers," said Williams.

While Leak and Carter support Congressman Rush's legislation, the Illinois Cemetery and Funeral Home Association does not believe the bill does enough to protect everyone. The association's attorney says while he believes in the bill's goals, the Federal Trade Commission does not have jurisdiction over non-profit and religious cemeteries, which includes 85 percent of all cemeteries in the united states.


Load Comments