$27-Million Scam Cemetery Trust Fund

By Peter Neumann

June 18, 2010 Updated Jan 17, 2008 at 4:25 PM EST

Indiana's Secretary of State Todd Rokita has busted a cemetery scam in Indiana.

According to a release from Rokitya's office, hundreds of residents across Indiana were seeking peace when they contributed to their local cemetery’s trust fund for their and their loved one’s perpetual care.

Covington Memorial Gardens, Inc. and Covington Memorial Funeral Home, Inc., Fort Wayne were among six Indiana facilities, that along with the families of deceased Hoosiers, were defrauded in a securities-related scam which could cost Hoosiers over $27 million.

New Jersey resident Robert Nelms is the owner and president of Memory Gardens Management Corp., an Indiana corporation that owns and operates cemetery property and funeral homes, and he is targeted in Rokita's broad investigation.

Rokita’s Securities Prosecution Assistance Unit (PAU) has finished detailing Nelms’ scheme after dedicating over 1,000 man-hours to the investigation. They have worked with the Marion County prosecutor’s office to file criminal charges which were filed Thursday.

"Robert Nelms represents one of the worst elements of society; taking advantage of honest people who have chosen to invest their money for respectful purposes," Rokita said. "We have meticulously detailed his scheme and we are shocked at the extent that Nelms has taken to defraud honest Hoosiers. “He came into our state with a purpose. Now, he’ll wish he hadn’t," says Rokita.

In Indiana, the owner of a private cemetery is required by law to provide for the creation and establishment of an irrevocable perpetual care fund. The fund is designed for the purpose of permanently maintaining cemeteries for the benefit of the community and those who purchase lots there.

According to Rokita, Nelms used fraudulent securities instruments similar to corporate bonds to transfer the $27 million of cash and assets of the MGMC perpetual care fund. He hid the money through a variety of complex monetary transfers and then used it to pay some of the MGMC purchase price as well as for various personal reasons, such as his large home in Greenwood.

He has been charged with a series of felonies, including fraud-related violations of Indiana’s Securities law, theft and conspiracy to commit theft. Currently, Michigan is also reviewing Nelms’ scheme, but no Michigan prosecutor has filed criminal charges.

Including the Fort Wayne properties, the MGMC properties and funeral homes Nelms raided include:

*Forest Lawn Memory Gardens, Inc. and Forest Lawn Memorial Chapel, Inc., Greenwood

*Chapel Hill Associates, Inc. and Chapel Hill Funeral Home, Inc., Osceola

*Lincoln Memory Gardens, Inc., Boone County

*Gardens of Memory, Muncie

Gill Funeral Home, Inc., Washington

The PAU has filed charges in 26 high-profile investment fraud cases in Indiana since 2004. The unit has a 25-to-1 conviction-to-dismissal record with over 200 years of jail time sentenced to date.

(Extracts from Secretarty of State media release.)




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