Kansas officials waited four years to take action after owners of a Lawrence cemetery broke the law by failing to file financial disclosure forms that could have revealed widespread problems.
The owners of Lawrence Memorial Park Cemetery now stand accused of looting the cemetery's trust funds during that time span. But a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said Wednesday that authorities spent those years trying to resolve the matter short of litigation.
"It takes some time," said Stephanie Wing, the spokeswoman.
That was little comfort to Myron King, a Lawrence resident angered at problems with his wife's grave at the cemetery.
"That's the trouble with our government. We make laws but don't enforce them," he said Wednesday.
King added: "If I screw up and don't file my income tax, you can bet a dollar they'd be down here soon. So why can't they do the same for cemeteries?"
The Kansas Attorney General's Office on Tuesday publicized allegations that the cemetery owner, Mike Graham & Associates of Houston, had illegally moved trust funds - money paid for future graves, and to maintain old ones - out of state to a bank account in Alabama. The state has made similar accusations regarding another Graham & Associates property, West Lawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Topeka.
A woman answering the phone at the Houston office said the company would have "no comments whatsoever" on the accusations.
- 6News video: Cemetery in trouble since 2001 (04-19-06)
- AG says cemetery owners stole fees (04-19-05)
- 6News video: Cemetery maintainers accused of fraud (04-18-06)
- Cemetery up against $750,000 in fines (07-23-05)
- Cemetery's fate not yet put to rest (07-10-05)
- Memorial Park put under city's control (05-26-05)
State law requires cemeteries to file an annual report about the status of their trust funds. The attorney general's office says that Memorial Park's owners last filed such a report in 2000; Wing said the secretary of state's office last saw the report in 2001.
The office did not ignore the nondisclosure, Wing said. Instead, authorities began negotiations to get the cemetery to obey the law.
"We like to work with them and talk with them to bring them in compliance," Wing said. "We worked with them, and when we couldn't bring them in compliance, that's when we turned it over to the attorney general."
During that time, however, upkeep at the cemetery deteriorated to the point that two dozen surviving relatives complained to the Journal-World in August 2004, saying grass at Memorial Park was so overgrown that gravestones were being covered.
Wing said the matter was referred to Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's office in January 2005. Four months later, Kline's deputies brought a lawsuit against Graham & Associates and a judge placed the cemetery under control of Lawrence City Hall.
Spokesmen for Kline were unavailable for comment Wednesday.
City officials said this week that Lawrence taxpayers have paid more than $103,000 in the past year for upkeep at Memorial Park. That's one reason, Wing said, state authorities were slow to take legal action.
"We do everything we can to keep it in private ownership," Wing said, "because once it's turned over to a municipality, that's money that comes from taxpayers."