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The owners of Ravenna Township's Grandview Memorial Park -- the targets of two dozen criminal charges related to their operation of the cemetery -- were not present for a status hearing on felony criminal charges in Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman's courtroom on Monday.
Theodore L. "Ted" Martin Jr., 53, and Arminda K. "Myndi" Martin, 45, instead were in Pennsylvania -- with Pittman's permission -- where they will be sentenced today by a federal judge in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg after pleading guilty to tax evasion.
Federal prosecutors in January charged the couple with failing to pay more than $132,000 in federal taxes in 2011. They admitted filing a false joint individual tax return for that year, claiming they made approximately $39,500 and owed $11,453, when in reality their taxable income was nearly $370,000, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
During Monday's hearing, Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci told Pittman his office is attempting to reach financial remedies for as many as 60 potential victims, as well as seeking potential prison time for the Martins, who were represented at Monday's hearing by defense attorneys Brian Pierce and Linda Malek.
Additional criminal charges still may be filed against the Martins for selling "pre-need" contracts to multiple customers in need of headstones, vaults and other cemetery products, then failing to deliver as promised. That's theft, Vigluicci said, and under Ohio law could mean more severe charges as many of the "60 to 70" potential victims his office has identified are elderly.
He said part of the problem with the case is that the cemetery at 5400 Lakewood Road in Ravenna Township "is an ongoing operation," which the Martins have been running since 2008.
The cemetery is located on three parcels, Vigluicci said, and is "wholly unmarketable" to a potential buyer. The property is the subject of at least 48 liens, with money owed not only to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and Ohio Department of Taxation for non-payment of unemployment and workers compensation fees and taxes, but plaintiffs who have sued the Martins over the years as a result of business transactions.
Most of the liens amount to "$1,000 here and there," Vigluicci told Pittman.
One possible solution is to have the Martins sell some of the property. A wooded, 10-acre parcel on the cemetery grounds has potential for sale, Pierce said.
"To the extent (the Martins) can help people with this additional parcel, they're willing to do that," he said.
Vigluicci said that parcel has "questionable" value because it is landlocked between two housing developments. Unless a buyer can be found, "the hope of obtaining compensation for (the victims) is minimal," he said.
State law mandates Ravenna Township take over the cemetery if the Martins are forced to give it up.
The township would be responsible for honoring deeds to all previously purchased plots in the cemetery, but not for fulfilling contracts related to pre-need purchases made from the Martins, Vigluicci said.
A final pre-trial hearing on the 24 charges in the criminal case is scheduled for Nov. 18, and a jury trial may take place the week of Nov. 22 if the case is not resolved prior to that, Pittman said.
The Martins are forbidden from soliciting any new business while the criminal charges are pending. Burials still are being performed at Grandview, under the close watch of the judge and two court-appointed trustees.
The Martins remain under investigation by the Delaware County Sheriff's Office and York County, Pa., Regional Police in relation to the operation of their other two cemeteries -- Fairview Memorial Park in Delaware County, Ohio, and Suburban Memorial Gardens in York County, Pa.
The Martins purchase the Ohio cemeteries from Sheridan Rinehart in 2008. An audit by the Ohio Department of Commerce in 2014 revealed they allegedly tampered with cemetery records; failed to hold in trust a portion of the sales proceeds from the cemetery; falsified annual reports to the ODC; and failed to register the cemetery with the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission, according to their criminal indictment.
Contact this reporter at 330-298-1128 or email@example.com
Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier