Pre-need contract owners to get day in court

BOONEVILLE – Almost two years after asking for help from state prosecutors, Prentiss County owners of prepaid funeral contracts can attend a court hearing on their claims on July 22.
A motion will be heard in Prentiss County Chancery Court to consolidate several properties that have been under investigation for mismanagement and fraud, confirmed Attorney General’s spokeswoman Jan Schaefer.
Consolidation would speed up the legal process, according to the secretary of state.
The four properties to be consolidated are Prentiss Memorial Gardens, Baldwyn; Liberty Memorial Gardens, Booneville; Pinecrest Memorial Gardens, Calhoun City; and Sunset Gardens Memorial Park, Laurel.
An investigation began in late 2007 after about 200 consumers aired their complaints to representatives from the secretary of state’s office, the attorney general’s office and others.
The state’s investigation found that owners Don Middleton of Henderson, N.C., and James Rogers of Birmingham, Ala., had converted trust funds for the properties to their own names, and very little money is left in the trust accounts.
“I’m just hoping something is finally going to happen,” said Ellis Johnson of Wheeler, who has persisted in keeping the issue before the attorney general’s office and the secretary of state.
Said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, “It is our hope that consolidation of these cases will bring a quicker end result with less cost to the taxpayer. Following consolidation the goal is to have a receiver collect any assets that might exist and determine the legal title to the cemetery property.
“Members of our staff have viewed the properties, which we feel can be sold in the future to a responsible buyer who can bring the cemeteries back into a productive state.”

Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal