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Jackson group takes over troubled cemeteries

Friday, December 14, 2007

Scott County and Sikeston, Mo., government officials have said all along they never wanted to be in the cemetery business.

Now, after months of waiting, they're out of the profession.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon's office announced Thursday that a deal had been struck for the purchase of three Southeast Missouri cemeteries in Scott and New Madrid counties that have been under the care of local governments since March. A court injunction stopped the cemeteries' owner, the Houston-based Mike Graham and Associates, from selling headstones, plots and other goods and services at the cemetery in August 2005 as part of a statewide crackdown on fraud in the funeral industry.

Nixon's office received 150 complaints about operations at the three area cemeteries, said John Fougere, spokesman for the attorney general's office. Nixon's office claims Graham took payments for grave markers that were never delivered and sold mausoleum space at a Rolla, Mo., cemetery where no mausoleum had been constructed.

Fougere said he couldn't comment on whether any criminal charges will be filed.

Under Thursday's agreement, Birk and Association of Jackson, owned by Dale Birk, will take over the cemeteries.

The deal will "transfer all assets of Mike Graham and Associates, including the Memorial Park and Garden of Memories cemeteries in Sikeston and Forest Hill Memorial Gardens in Morley, to Birk Enterprises of Jackson," the news release read.

Under the agreement Birk will have to honor commitments not met by the previous ownership, the release said.

Sikeston city manager Doug Friend said the city and Birk have reached an agreement for Birk to reimburse Sikeston for the money it spent in maintaining the cemetery over the summer. He didn't have the monetary figures available.

Scott County has filed a $5,707 lien on the property for its upkeep costs. Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said Birk has assured the county the lien will be paid, at which time the county will give him the roughly $5,100 currently held in trust from the sale of plots at the cemetery in recent months.

Despite being critical in the past of the time it was taking to make the sale, Burger praised Nixon's office for its work to get the deal done.

Sikeston and Scott County officials have said they find Birk to be honest and trustworthy.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182


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