State Sues Burr Oak, Freezes $2 Million in Trust Funds
Sheriff Employees Also Continued To Search Cemetery For Remains
Cook County Sheriff's Department recruits arrive to canvas Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip Tuesday, July 14, 2009. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)
Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes and Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed the complaint in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday against Perpetua Holdings of Illinois, the company that has owned the cemetery since 2001.
The complaint charges Perpetua with violating the Illinois Cemetery Care Act, the Pre-Need Cemetery Sales Act and the Illinois Funeral or Burial Funds Act over allegations that cemetery employees desecrated graves, buried new remains on top of existing human remains and improperly disposed of human remains.
The filing also states that burial records at the cemetery are "wholly incomplete and inaccurate" in violation of the three acts.
A fourth count charges the owners with consumer fraud for failing to monitor and maintain Burr Oak operations and misdirecting funds intended for the care of cemetery plots.
The complaint seeks to stop Perpetua Holdings from accepting any further money for operation of the cemetery and ask the court to appoint a receiver to take control of the cemetery. Earlier today, the Cook County Sheriff's Office filed an affidavit also seeking a court-appointed receiver.
The company may also be liable for $50,000 per violation of consumer fraud laws, the lawsuit said.
On Monday, Hynes' office froze almost $2 million in trust funds controlled by Perpetua Holdings for the operation of Burr Oak and another cemetery, Cedar Park Cemetery in Calumet Park.
Sharply critical of Burr Oak Cemetery's owners, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has asked a civil court to appoint someone to run the Alsip graveyard that is the focus of an ongoing grave desecration scandal.
According to the affidavit filed by the sheriff's office, Perpetua Holdings of Illinois, Inc., has "not indicated any plan, desire or ability to re-open and operate the Burr Oak Cemetery."
The only contribution the company has made, according to the affidavit, is the hiring of a part-time legal consultant who has no expertise in running a cemetery and is not responsible for the burial ground's day-to-day operations or supervising its remaining employees.
"I have been running the cemetery," Dart said at an afternoon press conference today in Bridgeview, "and that is obviously not what should be going on here."
Dart said that the owners have not shown up at the cemetery since the scandal broke last week.
Standing next to a rusty filing cabinet removed from the cemetery's office, and beside a mountain of forms filled out by relatives desparate for news of their buried loved ones, Dart said he hoped a judge would "quickly" agree to appoint a receiver to take over the cemetery's day-to-day operations.
Sheriff's office officials said that Judge Stuart Palmer was hearing Dart's petition this afternoon at the Daley Center.
The affidavit also said Burr Oak "poses a substantial public safety risk due to the conditions created by horrendous criminal acts and cemetery mismanagement, including the existence of exposed skeletal human remains.
More than 100 Cook County sheriff employees, many of them recruits, combed Burr Oak Cemetery Tuesday morning as authorities continued to track down the remains of hundreds of bodies that were dug up and dumped.
The workers were taking pictures and documenting sections of the cemetery, which contains as many as 100,000 graves, according to sheriff spokesman Steve Patterson.
The FBI, which is heading the forensics investigation, has held out little hope of identifying all the remains.