July 3, 2014

Evergreen faces state audit over burial spots sold to several people

A Merced cemetery and funeral home faces a state audit after it was found that Evergreen Funeral Home and Memorial Park sold the same crypt space to at least three different people, the Merced Sun-Star has learned.

A Merced cemetery and funeral home faces a state audit after it was found that Evergreen Funeral Home and Memorial Park sold the same crypt space to at least three different people, the Merced Sun-Star has learned.

Monica Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, said she could not comment on “the ongoing audit” of Evergreen.

News of the audit comes on the heels of a $4,250 fine levied by the funeral bureau in May against Evergreen involving the same case, according to documents obtained by the Sun-Star.

A copy of the citation said the fine was based on findings that Evergreen made a “substantial misrepresentation” to clients, acted “for more than one party in a transaction without the knowledge or consent of all parties,” and engaged in conduct “... which constitutes fraud or dishonest dealing.”

The issues outlined in the citation date back to May 2002 and, at least initially, involved Evergreen owners and operators who are no longer with the cemetery. New ownership and management assumed control of the cemetery after it was closed in 2007 for several months.

According to the citation report, Victor and Mary Ann Worden purchased five cemetery plots in May 2002. The report indicates the Wordens made payments on the plots for several years, but in 2012 another person was buried in one of the plots purchased by the Wordens.

The person buried in the Wordens’ plot was placed there after the site her family purchased was also sold to someone else, the report says.

“Evergreen’s lack of accurate cemetery records/plot information contributed to internments being made in incorrect internment spaces in the cemetery,” the report says. “Further, the complainants allege the purchase price continually changed, and it was only after the (state) became involved that the true balance was reconciled.”

Darren Hill, the cemetery manager, declined to comment directly on matters surrounding the audit, but did say cemetery officials do not believe the current management should have been punished for mistakes that at least started with the previous operators.

“Evergreen’s owners and management do not agree that the citations and fines should have been imposed upon the new ownership,” Hill said in a prepared statement, “but are willing to work with all agencies and the community to bring honor to those who have been entrusted in the care of Evergreen Memorial Funeral Home and Memorial Park.”

A complete copy of Hill’s statement can be viewed on the Sun-Star’s website.

Hill also said the current management has been working to reconcile the records they inherited and to confirm ownership and contracts paid to the previous owners.

“During a period prior to the new ownership taking over the operation; the cemetery records were stored at area funeral homes and monument companies,” Hill said. “These records did not match the records that were surrendered to the new owners.”

Mary Ann Worden said Thursday the complicated financial questions surrounding the highly emotional issue have still not been worked out, at least to her satisfaction. She also said she disagreed that problems started with the cemetery’s previous management, saying she fully blames the current ownership group for the turmoil.

She said she has refused all offers from the cemetery to select a different plot for a simple reason.

“It’s right close to where my son is buried, my sister – I’ve buried a lot of family and friends in that area,” Worden said in a telephone interview. “It’s not just some spot to us; it’s a special place.”

Worden said she has not been able to make contact with the family of the woman who was buried in the plot in question and admitted she does not know if that family has similar emotional ties to that area of the cemetery.

She said hopes the woman’s family will agree to move, but if not, she’s hoping legal authorities will intervene in the case and she said she has not ruled out the possibility of filing a lawsuit or seeking a court order to get the plot back.

“It’s a big mess now,” she said. “It’s just terrible what’s happened there.”

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