The owner of a Scott County cemetery violated a consumer-protection law after failing to deliver purchased funeral and burial services to customers, state Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a lawsuit filed Monday.
The lawsuit, filed in Scott Circuit Court, alleges that Dale Shackelford, owner of Crestlawn Cemetery on U.S. 25 south of Georgetown, took payments from numerous customers for burial monuments that were never installed and failed to respond to requests for refunds.
The suit claims that Shackelford abandoned his responsibilities to maintain the cemetery. Debbie Kunkel of Scott County, whose parents and brother are buried at Crestlawn, said she mowed grass and cut weeds over a half-acre of the cemetery, and other people have also chipped in to mow.
“I went and there were like 10 people mowing and weed-eating out of the goodness of their heart,” Kunkel said. “I was moved to tears.”
Shackelford has “failed in his duty as the owner of manager of that cemetery,” Beshear said during a news conference at the Scott County Courthouse. “Mr. Shackelford’s actions or lack thereof illustrate an egregious abuse of client trust and a complete and utter disregard” for families.
Scott County Sheriff Tony Hampton said his office is investigating 25 cases of possible criminal activity involving the cemetery.
The sheriff’s office is working with Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordie Shaw and his staff to determine when and how to proceed, either by filing charges directly or by taking cases to a grand jury for possible indictment, Hampton said.
Shackelford became the cemetery owner in 2014, according to a deed filed in the county clerk’s office. There was no one at the cemetery office Monday, and a working telephone number for the cemetery couldn’t be found.
State law requires anyone operating a cemetery business to register with the attorney general’s office and to file annual reports with the office. Shackelford failed to do both, the lawsuit says.
The suit seeks a court order that would force Shackelford to provide a full accounting of the money collected from customers and require that he provide the service or merchandise that each customer bought or provide a refund.
The suit also seeks to prohibit further sales of merchandise or services until the cemetery complies with the law.
Since 2014, the attorney general’s office has received more than 22 consumer complaints regarding the cemetery and Shackelford, Beshear said. (The complaints started coming in before Beshear, the grandson of a Western Kentucky funeral home operator, assumed office five months ago.)
“We know the problem is big and we know the problem is more than the 22 complaints we’ve received,” Beshear said.
Betty Ann Williams of Scott County said in an affidavit that that she paid Shackelford $2,475 to place a headstone and grave marker for her husband.
“Since that time, Mr. Shackelford has failed to place either the headstone or the marker for my husband or myself,” Williams’ affidavit said.
Williams said she tried to contact Shackelford more than 20 times.
“He often ignores my attempts to contact him, and when I do talk to him, he makes excuses as to why he has not provided the services he promised,” the affidavit said.
Betty D. Fain, another Scott County resident, said she paid Shackelford $2,664 to place a monument on her husband’s grave at Crestlawn.
“He said the monument would be placed by Labor Day 2014,” Fain’s affidavit said. “In addition, I gave Mr. Shackelford a plaque from the Navy to be placed on my husband’s monument.
“Since that time, Mr. Shackelford has failed to place the monument for my husband,” Fain said in an affidavit. “In addition, I have not seen my husband’s naval plaque since I gave it to Mr. Shackelford. When I spoke to him in the spring of 2015, he said the monument would be placed by Memorial Day 2015,” but it wasn’t.
Harlan Wilson, funeral director at Tucker Yocum & Wilson Funeral Home in Georgetown, said he has had numerous complaints from customers about not being able to reach Shackelford.
“However, when a consumer attempts to contact him through me, Mr. Shackelford will normally answer because I gave him the consumer’s money,” Wilson said in an affidavit. “Mr. Shackelford has requested that I inform consumers to write checks for funeral services in his name and not the cemetery’s name.”
Beshear said he couldn’t give a dollar estimate of services not rendered. “The company and Mr. Shackelford refuse to respond to our civil investigative demand, which would have provided us with all of those documents,” Beshear said.
“That’s not only real money, but when a family member is laid to rest and is not ... in the way that family is intended or paid for, it goes so much deeper than dollars,” Beshear said.
Perhaps 100 people gathered for a standing-room only meeting at the courthouse last week to discuss various complaints with Crestlawn, Scott County Judge-Executive George Lusby said.
Asked whether there is room in city and county budgets to take over a privately owned cemetery, Lusby said, “The answer is yes, if that is needed.”
“Frankly, this offends our sensibilities,” Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather said of the cemetery’s problems.
Consumers who have experienced problems with Crestlawn Cemetery or any other Kentucky business can contact the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection at 502-696-5389 or go to Ag.ky.gov.
Families who have paid for something but not received a headstone or other service are encouraged to call Detective David Hodapp with the Scott County Sheriff’s Office at (502) 863-7855.