CENTRALIA - Patrice Boyer of Olympia says her father's grave at a Centralia cemetery is nearly a year overdue for a headstone, possibly the result of misdeeds by the cemetery's owner.
Her father, Kenneth Brandt, arranged for one when he purchased two cemetery spaces along with “pre-needs” in 1994. But when Brandt was buried in March 2010, Boyer and her family learned there was no headstone in waiting and that Greenwood Memorial Cemetery did not have the money for one without dipping into operational costs or the sexton’s own pocketbook.
Cemetery owner John Baker is under investigation by the state Department of Licensing for allegedly spending cemetery trust funds set aside for burials. Sexton Jennifer Duncan, whom Baker put in charge of the cemetery by power of attorney before he went to prison in February 2010, said the state is investigating 82 possible cases of fraud.
The state confirms only that it began its investigation in May.
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“We can’t compromise the investigation by revealing any details,” spokeswoman Christine Anthony of the Department of Licensing said.
The Department of Licensing says cemeteries must invest 10 percent of purchases for sites and pre-needs into a trust fund, or 50 percent when everything’s paid up front.
Cemeteries can use interest that builds in such funds to cover operational costs.
Duncan said the trust fund had less than $25,000 when she took over Greenwood operations; records showed it should have had more than $100,000 invested.
Duncan blames the cemetery’s budget’s gaping hole on the lifestyle Baker shared with volunteer caretakers he invited to live on his property, which culminated violently in December 2007 when he fired a shotgun during a verbal dispute.
“There is no pre-needs trust fund; they just squandered the money,” Duncan said.
Baker, who was sent to prison for eight months after entering Alford pleas for possession of methamphetamine, second-degree assault and felony harassment and was released Oct. 4, 2010, denies Duncan’s allegations and bristles at the state’s investigation.
“That’s baloney,” Baker, 68, said. “I’m not here to steal from families.”
Following Boyer’s complaint May 3, 2010, the state sent her a letter stating disciplinary action could be taken if the cemetery is found in violation of the law.
“They told me it turned into a bigger investigation than what they anticipated,” Boyer said Thursday.
About two weeks ago, Duncan filed a no-contact order against Baker’s friend Bob Watts, a man Baker met in prison who now lives with Baker in Baker’s house next to the cemetery.
In her motion for a no-contact order, which says Watts was born in 1952, Duncan claims Watts attempted to intimidate her and has been a nuisance to cemetery visitors.
“He scares people off and he’s a thief,” Duncan said.
On Thursday, Watts appealed Duncan’s motion in Lewis County District Court. A hearing on the matter was re-scheduled for next Thursday.
Also on Thursday, Duncan filed a no-contact order against Baker.
Surprisingly, Baker filed a no-contact order against Duncan at the same time. Judge R.W. Buzzard dismissed both petitions and advised Duncan and Baker to hire attorneys.