Judge orders Shepherd Memorial Garden to be placed under receivership

Troubles are mounting for Shepherd funeral services, the long-respected company that’s been in business in Hendersonville for 118 years.

Three weeks before the N.C. Board of Funeral Service issued a directive revoking Thos’ permits and licenses, Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors was granted a motion by N.C. Superior Court Judge. Cemetery Commission to seize the assets of Shepherd Memorial Park, and place the company in receivership.
Court records show handwritten notes of 10 complaints to Raleigh-based cemetery regulators regarding foot-high grass, unfindable gravestones, and a locked gate guarded with a pit bull.
The nine-member Cemetery Commission has authority under state law to regulate cemeteries’ licensure, management, sales and preneed contracts and to seek relief in court to prevent violations of state law by impounding the property, books and records and appointing a manager.
Hendersonville attorney Sharon Alexander filed the complaint in Henderson County Superior Court on behalf the commission. The complaint lists 13 violations of the state Cemetery Act. They include failing to properly maintain grounds, denying loved ones access to graves, failing to keep accurate records, and failing to deposit money to the Perpetual Care Trust for perpetual care contracts.
“The Commission, and the public interest that it represents, are likely to sustain irreparable harm in the absence preliminary relief in that the physical condition of the cemetery will continue to be neglected (and) the cemetery trust fund will continue to be underfunded and at risk,”Alexander stated in the lawsuit that he added that the “financial condition of the cemetery is currently unknown by the commission.”
Alexander said that Marvin Pope of Buncombe county, Superior Court Judge, granted an injunction as well as the motion to receivership following a hearing. Alexander also directed attorneys for the nomination of a receiver. The judge’s action on the appointment is pending.
Numerous problems were highlighted by consumer complaints to the Cemetery Commission:
• “Even though I knew where they are buried it was impossible to dig through grass to find their marker,”Joyce R. Lance.
• “Saturday there was a young fellow with a pit bull dog at the gate telling myself and the elderly man that we could not come in because it was private property,” Nancy Sayles said.
• “They are not keeping up the grounds,”Kayley Pace, whose grandparents were buried there, said: “The last time I went to put flowers on the grave the grass was up to my knees.”
In a 2½-page response to the 13 alleged violations filed Oct. 7, cemetery employee Daniel Yaeger asserted that many corrections had been made. “We have hired more staff members and are taking steps to insure that all business from now on is conducted correctly and with the kind of professionalism that is expected in the funeral and cemetery industry,”He said.
The complaints and Yaeger’s response included:
• Failure to maintain grounds: At one time the memorial park had only one employee to maintain the 22-acre cemetery. “We also had the unfortunate circumstance of all mowing machines needing repair and a long waiting time at the repair shop,”Yaeger stated. The machines were fixed. “we now have staff capable of maintaining the grounds.”
• Denying access: When aggrieved families organized an effort to mow the grounds last May, the memorial park closed the gates. “We simply could not allow this due to … liability,”He said.
• Accepting payment for a plot and failing to execute a contract. He was notified. “we have been diligently working to locate all such files and get the proper contracts and warranty conveyances filled out,”He said.
• Failing to report perpetual care information to the Cemetery Commission from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30 of this year and possibly after that: Memorial park employees were “doing an internal audit”In an effort to “get caught up”and to account for the money the company owes to the commission.
• Failing to report preneed contracts and pay money into the Cemetery Funds of North Carolina trust fund: Yaeger repeated that “we are doing an internal audit”Planning and organizing “pay all fines and fees … as soon as we possibly can.”
Yaeger stated last week that “the corrections are being made.”He refused to answer any other questions before speaking to his attorney.

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