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Back in the 1960s, Curtis and Idabell Davis of Rootstown bought adjoining plots in Ravenna Township's Grandview Cemetery, along with caskets, vaults, a marker and the eventual opening and closing of their graves.
Now, Curtis Davis' 86-year-old widow is facing the possibility of having to re-purchase items she already paid for, said their daughter, Linda Adelman of Randolph.
"The state really needs to pass a law that keeps a cemetery from doing this to old folks," Adelman said.
A week after taking over stewardship of the former Grandview Cemetery, receiver Stephen Colecchi is still sorting out the cemetery's paperwork. He recently released a set of "guidelines" indicating that people who were paying in advance for items such as caskets, vaults and grave markers at Grandview may be out of luck. And for those who bought space for a planned second mausoleum that was never built, the short answer is "it depends."
Colecchi's operating guidelines spell out, for now, the fate of arrangements people have made with the cemetery's owners, Theodore "Ted" Martin and his wife, Arminda. The Martins are serving a prison sentence for tax evasion.
After Ted Martin's bond was revoked, Colecchi, who is an attorney, was appointed by Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman to care for the cemetery at 5400 Lakewood Road. Pittman's ruling instructs Colecchi to provide an account of all money paid to him and all funds paid to care for the cemetery. The order is effective for two weeks and may be extended at the request of the Portage County Prosecutor's Office.
The prosecutor's office has filed a motion seeking to dissolve the corporation that owns Grandview. The motion, which is pending in Pittman's court, states that the Martins have "systematically used Grandview as a subterfuge to engage in criminal activity" and have used funds paid for cemetery plots and pre-need merchandise and services for personal use.
Colecchi will oversee the cemetery until the ownership issue is resolved. Should Pittman dissolve ownership of the cemetery, Ravenna Township trustees would assume ownership and responsibility for burials -- but not "pre-need" items that often are purchased separately at many cemeteries.
Colecchi said all cemetery lot purchases that have been paid in full will be honored. He also will honor all cemetery lot purchases that are being paid in installments. Cemetery also remain available for purchase.
However, the Martins, as well as the previous owners of the private cemetery, billed Grandview as a "one-stop shop" where people purchased other items to go with their cemetery plot, such as grave markers and caskets. State law required them to establish escrow accounts to pay for those items, as well as to offset the cost of ongoing maintenance at the cemetery. However, that was not done, and the Grandview bank account has just $332.58 in it, Colecchi said.
So that means Colecchi won't be able to offer the "pre-need" items, even if people have paid for them. Those making installment plans will only be required to pay for the part of the bill that includes the cost of the cemetery lot itself, he said. The cemetery will continue to open and close graves using the established fee schedules, and families should make arrangements with funeral homes or monument companies for vaults or markers.
"If they've already paid for the plot, it doesn't seem fair to continue to accept those payments," Colecchi said. "In essence, you're throwing good money after bad."
He didn't rule out the possibility that contracts made with the Martins might be honored if it's found that the Martins have bank accounts that have not yet been discovered.
"If we're able to recover funds, there may be some chance of collecting, but that's down the road," he said.
Adelman said her father died in 2014, and it took "eighteen months and the attorney general" to get a marker at the grave for both of their parents. Now, she wonders how her family will pay the remaining costs associated with her mother's burial when the time comes.
"It upsets me that these old people who already paid for these things aren't going to get the things they expect," she said.
Colecchi recommended that lot owners who have questions about their rights under their pre-need contract should consult a private attorney. The Portage County Bar Association has set up a bank of lawyers to represent Grandview clients who have questions.
Another complication, Colecchi said, is that records seem to indicate that the Martins sold space in a mausoleum that was never constructed. He said some people who were to be put in the second mausoleum actually went into the first one.
"Each individual case will need to be reviewed and a determination made as to whether mausoleum space is available," Colecchi said.
Ravenna Township trustees have agreed to assume responsibility for mowing for the remainder of the season, Colecchi said. As is the case with any other property the township mows when an owner fails to, the trustees will place a lien on the property.
A.C. Strip, of Strip, Hoppers, Leithart, McGrath and Terlecky law firm in Columbus has been appointed receiver of Fairview Cemetery in Delaware County, which the Martins also own. The decision came Friday in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
At Fairview, volunteers with loved ones buried at the cemetery have also been mowing, pruning and weeding it to keep its condition from worsening.
Gary Pfau, executive officer of the Chesty Puller Young Marines, said his unit will be putting flags on the graves of veterans buried in Grandview on Thursday. The group also plans to mark the graves of veterans at Maple Grove Cemetery in Ravenna and Rose Hill cemetery in Fairlawn.
The placing of flags is an annual Memorial Day tradition for the Young Marines. The unit includes 45 youth, including a new class of 18 that recently joined the unit.
Colecchi asks that those who need to contact him do so by e-mail if possible at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached by phone at 330-472-5572.
For those giving a thumbs down on my post, Just the facts....... Lost/fined 10 million dollars and only comment was "We learned a hard lesson" . And still kept a job. PRICELESS. Only in Ravenna/Portage County......
The last business this guy was in charge of was fined 10 million dollars. Nice job Judge.