BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – There may soon be a new owner for the embattled George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens cemetery. That’s welcome news for people who’ve been worrying that it may close permanently.
A judge approved the sale of the cemetery to Cedric McMillian, the owner of the local monument company.
McMillian said he would honor contracts for customers with prepaid plots at Carver if there are records of ownership.
If some has proof that they paid for a plot, but it is already occupied, McMillian agreed to give them the option of being buried somewhere else at the cemetery if space is available.
He also agreed to provide up to 85 granite monuments to customers who paid for markers and didn’t receive them.
The State Department of Insurance says the former operation was not in compliance with state laws for endowment care cemeteries.
During the hearing, while the judge was questioning McMillian it came to light that his business has not been in compliance with state laws regulating pre-need contracts, but the representatives from the State Department of Insurance told the judge that many other monument companies are not in compliance and that many don’t understand the requirements. McMillian says he will remain in contact with the Dept. of Insurance and be sure to be in compliance moving forward.
The deal is set to close in thirty days.
“Thirty days, thirty days to close so between now and thirty days we’ve got to get ourselves in order to go full speed ahead,” said McMillian.
There were two other offers to buy the cemetery. One was made by cemetery owner named J.R. Richardson and another was from a person who walked up to the podium and made an offer at the very last minute.
The judge said she chose McMillian in part because of what she perceived to be his willingness to work with the families affected by the sudden closure and bankruptcy of the cemetery.
State Representative Juandalynn Givan and the Carver Cemetery Oversight Committee voiced their support for McMillian during the hearing.
“I’m very confident in Mr. McMillian moving forward we will be watching him there is a watch committee that has been established,” said Givan.
The Trustee estimates there are about 1,000 plots that have not been used and about 20,000 plots that will require maintenance.
McMillian said he plans to clear some additional acreage which is currently wooded and create more space for the cemetery.
“First thing I think we’re going to look to do is to create more space, you know to create more space and also and while at the same time you know finding plots that have been mismanaged,” said McMillian.
The only two formal offers were from McMillion and another cemetery owner named JR Richardson.
The attorney for the bankruptcy Trustee said there were not substantial differences between the offers other than the $2000 increase in Richardson’s buying offer which would bring the total to $20,000 compared to McMillion’s $18,000 offer.
Richardson offered to give people who have proof of prepaid grave contracts who run into issues with those plots the opportunity to be buried in one of his other cemeteries.
A man who was present at the hearing requested the chance to extend the sale window and made a $25,000 offer, but that was declined.
When considering the offers the judge said there are not likely to be many buyers coming forward and that the cemetery would likely be abandoned if a sale were not approved.
The ALDOI says if the property were abandoned the state dept. of insurance may not be able to place it in receivership because Carver never had a certificate of authority to sell preneed goods or services.
ALDOI regulates preneed vendors and to some extent endowment care cemeteries.
State department of insurance representatives explained that their audit of the cemetery’s records showed that about $260,000 in sale proceeds which should have gone into ira perpetual care trust fund was never contributed.
McMillian says he sells monuments, makes them right away and stores them on site for people until time of need, but only has one on site now.
The ALDOI says that qualifies as a preneed sale and would require a certificate of authority from ALDOI which McMillian does not have.
2014 WIAT-TV CBS42