News

689 victims named in Adams County cemetery case

Written by Lillian Reed and Jennifer Wentz/Hanover Evening Sun | Jul 6, 2016 5:35 AM
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Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett speaks during the Oak Lawn Memorial Garden press conference in Gettysburg on July 5.(Photo: Clare Becker, The Evening Sun)

(Gettysburg) -- After a five-month investigation, which included thousands of interviews with victims, Cumberland Township police have filed charges against the former owner of the Oak Lawn Memorial Garden cemetery.

Cumberland police charged James H. Delaney for theft and violation of Pennsylvania Burial Ground Law after he allegedly mishandled more than $1 million intended for prepaid funeral arrangements, according to an affidavit filed Tuesday with District Judge Mark Beauchat.

Investigators began looking into the cemetery in February after receiving more than 450 complaints from customers who had pre-purchased funeral merchandise and other services from Delaney before he left the business, according to the affidavit. A new owner took control of the property in January, several months after it was sold in a sheriff's sale.

Numerous community members also expressed outrage at the time upon discovering the state of the burial grounds, which many said was not receiving normal upkeep.

"Fraudulently deceiving people as to the matters of their final resting place and those of their loved ones is something as deplorable and gut-wrenching as any theft I have handled," said Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett at a news conference July 5.

Sinnett released a list of 689 known victims in the Oak Lawn case, the largest he has ever seen attributed to a single case, he said.

The list of names includes people allegedly defrauded out of money between July 1, 2011, and the present, he said.

Still, the reported fraud operation may have taken place for longer than that time period, Sinnett said. The statute of limitations of the Pennsylvania Burial Ground Law prevents prosecutors from filing charges older than five years.

Delaney, 69, of Seven Valleys had owned the Cumberland Township cemetery since 1979, according to the affidavit. During his ownership, Delaney did not appear to have been audited or monitored by state authorities, Sinnett said.

"It troubles me tremendously to know this type of activity was occurring for years right under our noses without anyone knowing about it," Sinnett said. "I do think more vigilance should be shown in the monitoring of these cemeteries, and I hope this will serve as a lesson going forward."

Customers' concerns ranged from funeral markers that were purchased but never installed to one case in which a woman's cremated remains were buried in the wrong location, according to the affidavit.

Delaney allegedly violated state burial laws by failing to deposit the required 70 percent of money received in these sales into a trust fund or special account, Sinnett said. Police also charged him with theft by deception for failing to provide the merchandise for which customers had prepaid.

Delaney is currently being held at the Adams County Adult Correctional Facility and awaiting arraignment.

If found guilty of both charges he could face a maximum sentence of eight years imprisonment. A judge could also order Delaney to pay restitution to the victims.

A call to the public

Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett is asking members of the public who believe they may have been a victim of the Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens to contact the Cumberland Township Police Department at 717-334-6485 or Adams County Victim Witness department at 717-337-9844.

Those whose names appear on the list released by the district attorney's office are not required to take any further action.

 

This article comes to us through a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

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