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Judge's ruling gets state out of cemetery business

AROUND MISSISSIPPI — Following a joint investigation by the Office of the Attorney General and Secretary of State, four cemeteries placed into receivership have now been ordered sold by Prentiss County Chancellor John Hatcher.

“We are now taking the final steps towards our goal of placing these cemeteries back into private, credible ownership,” said Secretary of State Hosemann. “Our team in the Secretary of State’s and Attorney General’s offices worked hard to release or satisfy millions of dollars in liens, clear title and accept bids on the cemeteries, allowing Judge Hatcher to order the sale of these properties to the successful high bidders. The hard work and dedication of Attorney General and Secretary of State staff members and community volunteers brought us where we are today. Hopefully, the state is out of the cemetery business in Laurel and North Mississippi.”

“We are pleased with Judge Hatcher’s order,” said Attorney General Jim Hood. “(Yesterday’s) ruling gives the victims assurance that the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried will be cared for in the rightful manner.”

The Secretary of State’s Office made the following recommendations to Prentiss County Judge John Hatcher:

• Liberty Memorial Park, Booneville — Liberty United Methodist Church (bid, $1)

• Pinecrest Memorial Park, Pittsboro — Pinecrest of Calhoun County (bid, $1)

• Prentiss Memorial Gardens, Baldwyn — Waters Funeral Home of Baldwyn (bid, cash payment of $12,500; victim assistance through discounted products and services; upgrades and capital improvements for sidewalks, landscaping, and cemetery access roads; and establishing a veteran’s section. Waters agrees to be contractually bound to perform the upgrades promised in the bid proposal).

• Sunset Gardens Memorial Park, Laurel  — Tutor Funeral Home of Magee (bid, cash payment of $20,100)

Of the $32,602 in cash pledged on the cemeteries, approximately $15,790 will be paid to the Internal Revenue Service to pay back taxes for liens against the properties. After expenses, the remaining portion will go to the perpetual care trust for that cemetery.

Based upon findings of the investigations conducted by the Secretary of State’s and the Attorney General’s offices, Don Middleton, former owner of the four cemeteries, was convicted on two counts of failure to file cemetery records and has been sentenced to 12 months in jail and fined $1,800 fine.

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