08/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

State Sues Burr Oak As Sheriff Asks Third Party To Run Desecrated Cemetery (SLIDESHOW)


Saying that his office is overwhelmed having assumed virtual responsibility for managing Burr Oak Cemetery, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart asked a civil court for an emergency order appointing someone to run the desecrated graveyard.

"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 he has received no help from the cemetery's owners, Perpetua Holdings of Illinois, and has been managing the Burr Oak staff while also sifting through the nearly 53,000 requests from people with family members buried at Burr Oak.

Perpetua's CEO, Melvin Bryant, issued his first public statements since the scandal broke in a statement Tuesday:

I certainly agree with what Sheriff Dart in Chicago has said. As he has concluded, the criminal conduct by former employees of Burr Oak Cemetery was absolutely despicable. I extend my heart-filled sympathies to all of those who have loved ones buried at Burr Oak Cemetery. I also have family members buried in the Cemetery and share the same outrage toward the conduct of the individuals.

As a management consultant to and president of Perpetua, I conducted an investigation which uncovered financial wrongdoings by the Director of Operations which led to her termination in March. The information was turned over to the proper authorities.

Neither I nor Perpetua, or its investors have benefitted from the criminal conduct. We understand the historical importance and legacy of Burr Oak Cemetery and want to build upon it--not see it destroyed by criminal wrongdoing.

Out of respect for the ongoing criminal investigation and pending lawsuits which include me in Chicago, there are no other comments but we will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities.

Also Tuesday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Comptroller Dan Hynes sued Perpetua for violating a series cemetery regulation laws and sought to prevent the company from accepting any money for further cemetery operations, the Tribune reports:

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.

This comes a day after Hynes' office froze nearly $2 million in Perpetua's funds. The AP story on Hynes' action:

CHICAGO (AP) -- Comptoller Dan Hynes is freezing the trust funds of Perpetua Holdings of Illinois, owner of the cemetery where workers are accused of digging up and dumping hundreds of bodies in a scheme to resell the burial plots.

Monday's action ends Perpetua's ability to accept funds in advance for the care of burial sites at Burr Oak Cemetery near Alsip and Cedar Park Cemetery in Calumet Park.

According to the comptroller's office, Perpetua recently reported $1.4 million in Burr Oak's care trust fund and $410,000 in its pre-need trust fund. Perpetua also reported $3.1 million in its Cedar Park care trust fund, about $764,000 in its cemetery pre-need trust fund and another $277,000 in its pre-need trust fund.

Hynes says his office is working with the Cook County sheriff's department to determine if those funds exist.

Hynes has also proposed a package of cemetery regulations following the gruesome Burr Oak case, the AP reports:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois cemeteries and those who operate them would have to be state-licensed and adhere to a code of conduct under proposed legislation.

Comptroller Dan Hynes introduced the idea after authorities discovered a suburban Chicago cemetery where graves allegedly were dug up and remains cast aside so the plots could be resold.

Action on Hynes' six-part plan could come as early as Wednesday. But other lawmakers want a committee to conduct hearings on the matter to make sure reforms are sound.

Hynes also wants to require cemeteries to provide reasonable maintenance, keep detailed records and maps and provide consumers with a plain-language explanation of their rights.

Senate President John Cullerton told the Tribune he expects lawmakers to vote on the regulations Wednesday.

FBI investigators and Cook County sheriff employees, meanwhile, continued combing the cemetery, which contains as many as 100,000 graves. Watch a WGN report on the search:


In other Burr Oak news, the White House created a stir Tuesday when it said that Michelle Obama's father is buried in Burr Oak. Within hours, however, the First Lady's spokesperson clarified that he is not buried in Burr Oak, but in the nearby Lincoln Cemetery.

And the Emmett Till sub-plot also resurfaced Tuesday. Till, the 14-year-old Chicagoan whose 1955 lynching in Mississippi helped propel the civil rights movement, was buried in Burr Oak. His body was exhumed in 2005, as part of the investigation into his murder, before being re-buried in a different casket. That original casket was found by authorities rusting in a dilapidated shack with wild animals inside. The alleged ringleader of the gravedigging scheme also pocketed money from a private foundation ostensibly set up to build a memorial to the lynched civil rights icon, Sheriff Dart said. And on Tuesday, authorities disclosed an alleged plot to charge premium prices for gravesites near Till, the Tribune reports:

During the investigation into Burr Oak, officials discovered fliers in an office that included plans for a 216-space mausoleum in which people could pay from $8,692 to $22,250 to be preserved near the Till family, a person close to the investigation said. Authorities don't know if any of the spaces in the mausoleum had been sold.