Attorney General Bob Butterworth News Release
March 1, 2002
Media Contact: Jenn Meale
Phone: (850) 245-0150
Funeral Services Provider Charged With Violation At Broward, Palm Beach County Menorah Gardens Cemeteries
TALLAHASSEE -- A prominent funeral services provider was charged today by Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Comptroller Robert Milligan with deceiving clients at two of its south Florida cemeteries.
A civil complaint was filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court against Texas-based Service Corporation International (SCI) and S.C.I Funeral Services of Florida Inc., doing business as Menorah Gardens and Funeral Chapels. Among other things, it asks the court to place the two cemeteries under control of a receiver or administrator, award consumers actual and punitive damages and impose civil penalties of up to $15,000 per violation of the state's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The complaint centers on practices at the Menorah Gardens cemeteries in Broward and Palm Beach counties, including the misplacement of remains, the sale of inadequate burial space and the double sale of individual plots.
"Mistreating consumers in any business or industry is always reprehensible, but it's especially so when the product or service being sold touches a deep, emotional chord," Butterworth said. "That is certainly the case we are dealing with here. Hopefully, our action today will lessen the burden of those impacted by practices at the Menorah Gardens cemeteries. Essential to that effort is the appointment of an independent overseer to properly locate and identify remains and otherwise correct problems revealed by our investigation."
According to the complaint, SCI:
- Knew for some time that a number of burials at both the Broward and Palm Beach county Menorah Gardens cemeteries were in the incorrect place but did not advise the affected families.
- Used backhoes and other heavy equipment to smash and destroy vaults, caskets and remains at the Palm Beach County cemetery because the same plot had been sold twice, and on at least one occasion scattered remains in an adjacent field of wild hogs.
- Buried two unrelated infants in a single space on at least two occasions in the Broward County cemetery's so-called "Babyland" section.
- Sold adjoining plots to families intending to bury their loved ones next to each other despite the knowledge that there was inadequate space to do so, then attempted to cover up the problem by digging single plots twice as deep to "bunk bed" the deceased.
- Sold sizeable portions of various sections of the Palm Beach County cemetery knowing those sections were clearly inadequate to accommodate the number of persons holding title to the plots.
- Sold nearly all of the available spaces in a mausoleum at the Palm Beach County cemetery, of which 76 percent have been paid for in full, but have failed to begin construction of the mausoleum.
- Continued to advertise and market at-need or pre-need contracts despite the knowledge that SCI lacked the ability to assure consumers they would be buried where intended.
Butterworth said inspections of other SCI cemeteries are continuing and the scope of today's complaint could be expanded if those inspections reveal practices that warrant such action.