JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) - With bankruptcy proceedings now underway in federal court there are still a number of questions out there about George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens and what it means for people with a stake in the cemetery.
Whether they have loved ones buried there or they own prepaid plots or they purchased a marker months ago and still haven’t seen it, people have a lot of concerns about what will happen with the property.
As we first reported on Sunday, a Trustee has apparently accepted the position in charge of the cemetery’s bankruptcy estate after three other named trustees rejected the position.
Who has authority over the property now?
It appears that Trustee Rocco J. Leo has accepted the position and the court has approved his hiring of Max C Pope Jr. and Joy Beth Smith to help him facilitate duties as trustee, based on court documents. Leo is the fourth person named to be the trustee over the George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens’ bankruptcy estate, which includes an $810,379 dollar perpetual care trust fund plus $269,800 worth of real estate property, according to court filings.
As for where the money will come from to care for the cemetery, Fred Garfield, the cemetery's bankruptcy attorney, has told CBS 42 that he believes the funds from the $810,379 Perpetual Care Trust Fund are set aside for that purpose. However, Garfield argues that the money in that trust and any interest it generates would not be available to pay creditor claims.
What do people with a vested interest in the property need to do? (This includes prepaid plot owners, people with relatives buried there, and people who purchased markers and didn’t receive them.)
Anyone who purchased a plot at the cemetery and has documentation of that transaction has been urged by State Representative Juandalynn Givan to file a proof of claim in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
People who have a loved one buried there and have documentation are urged to do the same.
People who purchased grave markers and have receipts, but were waiting for the markers at the time of the cemetery’s closing are also urged to file claims.
The federal proof of claim form B10 is linked to this story.
The George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens, Inc. bankruptcy case is in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division. It’s case #: 13-04509.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court
Robert S. Vance Federal Building
1800 Fifth Avenue North,
Birmingham, Alabama 35203-2111
The deadline for filing claims is February 3, 2014, according to court documents.
What is the timeline for action?
As of Monday, Oct. 21st, the first creditors meeting in the bankruptcy case is scheduled for November 8th, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in the Creditors Meeting Room Birmingham in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the Robert S. Vance Federal Building located at 1800 Fifth Avenue North, Birmingham, Alabama 35203, according to court documents.
Creditors (people who are owed something by the cemetery) must file a proof of claim in U.S. Bankruptcy Court by February 3, 2014.
Can people still be buried George Washington Carver Memorial Gardens?
Some local funeral home and monument companies say yes.
Fred Reed with Reed Monuments and Memorials and Wilda Hameen of Serenity Funeral Home in Birmingham say if a person has documentation that they own a plot at the site, then they can be buried there.
There’s been at least one funeral in the last two weeks at the property, even though there was no one from the management there. At this point it will likely be up to the trustee to decide.
If there were anything illegal that happened at the cemetery, how would bankruptcy impact potential any investigation?
We’ve heard from Governor Bentley’s office and the Alabama Department of Insurance that state agencies were looking into the situation at the cemetery and have received complaints from customers.
Both state agencies have repeated that any actions they take at this point will be constrained by federal bankruptcy court.
There are no reports of any criminal charges involving the cemetery. However, a number of people have asked how a bankruptcy could impact a criminal investigation, and the question was raised at the last town hall meeting.
According to Professor Michael Floyd with the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, bankruptcy in general does not wipe out criminal liability. Bankruptcy discharges civil liability for debts.
"Bankruptcy does not wipe out criminal liability. If someone committed a crime that continues,” said Professor Floyd. “I don't know of any crime that's been committed here, but the bankruptcy discharges civil financial liability for debts. It doesn't do away with crimes or any various kinds of regulatory obligations, those continue."
Copyright 2013 WIAT-CBS42
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