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State Orders Cemetery|to Clean up Its Act

CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) - Missouri's attorney general claims cemetery owners let their place run to seed and charged families as much as $18,000 to disinter their loved ones to be moved.

Attorney General Chris Koster sued Stanza and Company, Oak Grove Mausoleum Company, Oak Grove Cemetery Association and Marilyn Stanza, all of St. Louis, in St. Louis County Court on Tuesday.

Marilyn Stanza controls the companies, which own and operate the Oak Grove Cemetery in north St. Louis County. Oak Grove sits on 67 acres and has been running since 1922.

Koster claims Stanza has been charging families who want to remove their loved ones from the failing cemetery grossly excessive fees as a way to punitively deter such removals.

Koster says Stanza told families it would cost at least $10,000 to disinter their loved ones. She charged one family $18,000, and two other families have sued her and her companies, the complaint states. One of those lawsuits ended in a default judgment and the other was settled after both parties agreed that $1,000 was an appropriate cost to disinter remains, the attorney general says.

"Cemeteries normally charge between $600 and $2,500 for disinterment depending on various factors such as the age of the grave and ease of access," the complaint states. "It takes a maintenance worker approximately 15 minutes to unseal and remove the marble cover from a crypt and an hour to remove the remains before transportation. A disinterment is a rare event and it is common for cemeteries to have none for many years."

Koster claims the defendants offer a variety of burial markers or tombstones to customers and promise that all money paid for such items would go directly and only for those items, but did not.

"When accepting funds from consumers for burial markers, defendants omitted or concealed the material fact that they lacked the funds, credit, or ability to order the burial markers from their suppliers in a timely fashion," the complaint states.

"Defendant Marilyn Stanza used funds from burial marker orders to fund for other purchases including older, unfulfilled orders for other burial markers and other, unrelated purchases."

Koster says families have had to wait at least a year and in some cases two years for the burial markers they purchased to be delivered and installed.

The attorney general also says that defendants fail to regularly mow cemetery grounds and maintain its roads and trees. The lack of maintenance extends to the mausoleum, a large historic structure capable of holding thousands of crypts, Koster says. He claims the defendants failed to prevent the ongoing theft of metal and other items, repair water damage, maintain adequate electricity, heating and air conditioning, repair open crypts, and failed to prevent and repair vandalism in the mausoleum.

St. Louis County officials have cited the cemetery for numerous violations, including having weeds over 8 inches high - especially around tombstones, deteriorating or missing fence sections and abandoned vehicles.

"Defendants receive income each year from four endowed care trusts," the complaint states. "For example, in 2013 they received $92,587. Those funds must be used for the maintenance and care of the cemetery as per § 214.330.

"Gravesite and crypt purchases at Oak Grove have almost completely ceased due to the lack of care and maintenance. The only recent burials and internments are in gravesites and crypts purchased many years prior."

Koster wants the defendants enjoined from continuing to engage in deceptive business practices, ordered to properly maintain the cemetery, to install burial markers within 30 days of delivery and charge appropriate disinterment fees. He also seeks restitution to customers who have suffered losses due to the defendants' actions and a civil penalty for each violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

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