Ravenna Township takes over troubled cemetery

RAVENNA TOWNSHIP - A Portage County township is now in the cemetery business after the former owners of Grand View Memorial Park cemetery were sentenced to years in prison on a slew of charges for cheating customers.

"It's sort of like being dropped down an elevator without any breaks. You leave your stomach up here," said Paula Briggs with a small box of receipts and records on her lap.

Briggs says she paid more than $2,000 dollars more than a decade ago to Ted and Myndi Martin, both sentenced to prison after a years-long investigation for defrauding customers.

The biggest challenge facing Ravenna Township, the new owner, is finding where some people are buried. Due to what one trustee calls poorly kept records, they will soon begin the process of checking every space in the mausoleum to verify if the records are accurate.

"Right now we're experiencing and taking on cemetery 101 because none of us had any idea where to start where to begin," said Patsy Artz, a Ravenna Township Trustee.

Artz says by their count, at least 18 spaces across the cemetery, including the mausoleum are oversold.

"The biggest challenge we found so far is the paperwork," said Artz. "It's not all there. We have people that never got a plaque. They paid for plaque, but they never got them and they have literally lost track of their loves ones. They're not sure where they are buried."

The township was granted ownership pf the cemetery at the start of the year. Since then Artz says they have already spent more than their originally planned $50,000 budget in maintenance costs for the year and will have to expand the budget due in part to a leaky mausoleum roof.

As for victims like Briggs, they're left scrambling to pay a second time what should have been theirs from the start.

"We got to dig up another 800 dollars to take care of us in the afterlife that we had already paid for so we're out that much money," said Briggs.

Township leaders say many victims were scammed out of more than $8,000 dollars. They have received calls from others claiming they purchased the same plot.

"To take advantage of someone that is in mourning - let's put it this way: I'd hate to die if I were them," said Artz.