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Oak Lawn cemetery's former owner pleads guilty to mishandling operations

Written by Lillian Reed/The Hanover Evening Sun | Oct 9, 2017 4:26 AM
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FILE PHOTO: Joyce Gordon, of Hamiltonban Township, looks down at a grave site at Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens. Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun

Adams County's district attorney says the list of victims topples 900

(Gettysburg) -- The former owner of Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens cemetery pleaded guilty to two counts related to mishandling the cemetery's operations. 

James Delaney's plea came unexpectedly this week as part of an agreement with Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett's office, the attorney said Friday. The case was previously scheduled to head to trial in January 2018. 

Delaney pleaded guilty to a felony count of theft by deception or false impression, for which he faces two to seven years in state prison. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violation of the Cemetery and Funeral Merchandise Trust Fund law, for which he faces an additional six months to a year of prison time. 

A message left Friday afternoon with his attorney, Aaron Nathaniel Holt, was not immediately returned.

Though the plea was entered into court Friday, President Judge Michael George opted to delay sentencing until Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. to allow the opportunity for the more than 900 victims to speak. The victim count is "by far" the most Sinnett has seen attached to a single case, he said Friday. 

If the plea is accepted, Delaney will be ordered to pay $2.2 million in restitution, Sinnett said.

Police started receiving hundreds of complaints in February 2016 from customers who had pre-purchased funeral merchandise, including memorial markers and caskets, from Delaney, according to an affidavit filed with District Judge Mark Beauchat. 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.

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James H. Delaney, 69, of Seven Valleys was charged with theft and violation of Pennsylvania Burial Ground Law after he allegedly mishandled more than $1 million intended for prepaid funeral arrangements. (Photo: Submitted)

 

Under Pennsylvania law, Delaney was required to place 70 percent of prepaid funds into a trust fund or special account.

The district attorney only pursued complaints of Delaney's actions that took place after July 1, 2011, citing Pennsylvania's statute of limitations, Sinnett said at a news conference in July 2016.

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 at the 2016 conference.

A new owner took control of the property in January 2016, several months after it was sold in a sheriff's sale.

Sinnett said Delaney will next appear in Adams County court Oct. 16 at 1 p.m.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and The Hanover Evening Sun.

Published in Adams County, News

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