Cathy Dyson writes about King George County.
Problems continue at Historyland cemetery
Controversy continues at Historyland Memorial Park in King George County.
So does the fallout from operations of Robert Ray Crouch, who ran the cemetery from September 2009 until he declared bankruptcy a year later. Crouch owes $27,752 in back taxes to state and federal governments, according to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond.
The lawyer appointed by the court to oversee the case also is due $19,794 for his work along with fees and filing charges he’s incurred.
The controversy is, where will the money to pay the bills come from?
Roy Terry, the Richmond lawyer appointed to be the bankruptcy trustee, believes the money should come from the cemetery’s perpetual care trust. He cites Virginia law which says income from the fund can be used to support administration of the cemetery.
Louis Herrink of King George has a different opinion. He and his wife, Ruth, were two of the long-term owners of the cemetery who sold the property to Crouch in 2009. The Herrinks, who publish the Journal papers in the Northern Neck, bought back the property in December 2010 at a foreclosure sale. They formed a new corporation with two longtime employees of Historyland.
Louis Herrink believes the perpetual care trust belongs to the cemetery and to the people whose loved ones are buried there. Each time a plot is sold, cemetery officials are supposed to put 10 percent of the cost into the perpetual fund for the maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery.
Salaries of cemetery workers and supplies to maintain the facility also come from the fund.
Herrink signed an agreement with Terry in June, saying the cemetery would pay the lawyer’s expenses. The agreement also says that assets, contracts and other records made during Crouch’s tenure will be passed along to Historyland in exchange for the payment.
The money to pay these fees will come from the perpetual care trust, if the bankruptcy court orders it, the agreement states.
The court is supposed to hear the matter on Sept. 7 in Richmond.
Louis Herrink said he signed the agreement because he believes he has no grounds to consent or object to the funds being used that way. He says the Virginia code spells out the purpose of the trust, and it’s up to the court, not him, to decide if the fund can be used to pay bankruptcy bills and back taxes.
Terry said the tax bills were created during Crouch’s tenure and are still an obligation of the estate. The administrative fees he incurred were “sufficient to meet the ongoing needs of the community, and in otherwise putting order to a difficult situation,” he wrote in an email.
While the latest controversy brews, Louis Herrink and Susan Muse, the office manager at Historyland, are trying to recreate transactions made during Crouch’s tenure. All the records were gone when the Herrinks took over. That included transactions while Crouch was owner as well as records dating back to 1968 when the cemetery began.
Louis Herrink said it’s fortunate that he made computer records of all the cemetery’s documents and kept a personal copy.
Residents who bought plots or vaults in recent years also have come to the cemetery to share copies of their paperwork, Muse said.
King George residents also have called asking why Herb Nichols, an investigator with the Cemetery Board of the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulations, is still contacting people about their dealings with Crouch.
Nichols continues to oversee the trust fund because it’s still under the jurisdiction of the cemetery board, said spokeswoman Mary Broz Vaughan.
She said she couldn’t provide any more information because of the involvement of the bankruptcy court and law enforcement.
In October 2010, Nichols testified during a bankruptcy proceeding that Crouch had withdrawn money illegally from a cemetery fund and hadn’t put money in other funds as mandated. No formal charges have been placed against Crouch for these actions.
But Crouch, who has a history of financial and legal problems, is facing a grand larceny charge in King George County related to the cemetery. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 22.