-- Situation in Flux -- Print
Founded in 1973, the Menorah Gardens chain bought the suburban Palm Beach Gardens cemetery in 1982 and sold it to SCI of Texas in April 1995.
Dug-up remains, disturbed markers, and broken vaults were shown on local and national television starting December 20, 2001. Lawyers now seek a class-action suit against the five Menorah Gardens cemeteries in South Florida and their owner, Service Corporation International of Houston, a manager and owner of 460 non-Jewish and Jewish cemeteries and 1,358 funeral homes. SCI is the largest cemetery operator in the United States.
SCI claims no knowledge and plans to investigate. The State Comptroller's Office, which monitors cemeteries, and the Florida State Attorney General are investigating allegations against one cemetery in West Palm Beach and one off Griffin Road in Broward County. The allegations include that they sold burial plots with insufficient space, sold the same plots to more than one family, desecrated graves, and disinterred and improperly disposed of bodies. U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Palm Beach Gardens, called for a criminal investigation and contacted U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Tim Muris, and Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Justice Department spokesman Brian Sierra confirmed that the agency is reviewing Foley's request. By Jan. 4, 2002, the cemetery and its parent corporation are to turn over records to Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Butterworth asked for burial books, burial cards and other records listing who is buried in the cemetery and in which specific plots. The Board of Funeral and Cemetery Services could fine or shut down SCI if allegations prove true. Local rabbis and synagogues are demanding answers.
The Griffin Road cemetery allegedly has a cordoned-off area with piles of broken vaults that SCI claims are residue of disinterments for interment elsewhere. The lawsuit seeks a court order to stop the alleged cemetery practices immediately and correct existing irregularities. Some family members report fresh mounds of dirt on plots where loved-ones had been buried for years. Others reported that loved ones could not be buried in a plot for which they had paid because someone else also purchased that plot.
A four-paragraph open letter from SCI in 24 December 2001 Palm Beach Post and other newspapers says, "We extend our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to any families who may have been affected by these accusations. The slightest suggestion that our company would be associated in any way with disrespect for the dead is absolutely intolerable. We consider our work to be a sacred trust."
The IAJGS International Jewish Cemetery Project has no additional information. Please do not email questions. For more information, search at http://www.palmbeachpost.com/ or read the following on-line news articles:
Sun-Sentinel-- http://sunsentinel.com/ (Scroll down to cemetery article)
http://www.jta.org/ and click on cemetery article.
UPDATE: A Broward judge on Tuesday certified a class-action lawsuit against Menorah Gardens Funeral Homes and its corporate parent, SCI allowing all persons with burial plots or family members at the SCI cemeteries off Griffin Road near Fort Lauderdale or off Memorial Park Road near West Palm Beach to join a class action. Source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com [August 2003]
Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 January 2009 06:41