On February 29th we broke a news story on the Gettysburg Wire Facebook about recent desecration of graves and confusion about the future of Oak Lawn Cemetery here in Gettysburg. Currently over 75,000 views, this has grown beyond a Borough issue and is now garnering attention from all over with former residents, current residents, and families of residents all over.
We’re compiling all of the information we know on this page, and will continue to update it as we learn more. Many readers are getting overwhelmed by the many posts and news reports about the situation, so creating a central location of updates is our goal.
What is the Debacle?
With the cemetery land sold, and the cemetery business no longer operational, people are questioning what is going to happen with loved ones buried there, and if pre-purchased burial plots are going to be honored. The lack of care and desecration going on with the current plots and headstones is making visual waves across Facebook as the community finds out just how dire the grounds are.
We’ve been told that the new owner, Ramesh Rao, stated he was not obligated to honor the pre-purchased burial plots by residents and families. Since he is not licensed to run a cemetery, people originally thought he cannot continue the burial side of the cemetery. We have since learned from the State Real Estate Commission that a license is only required for selling cemetery plots, not performing burials.
News sources state that Rao is possibly looking for someone to run the cemetery side of the property, which gives us a little hope that it will continue. Right now the ball is in Rao’s court on whether or not he will honor these previous agreements and purchases.
Here’s What We Know About Oak Lawn Cemetery
In 1978, James Delaney purchased Oaklawn Memorial Gardens.
In 2007, James Delaney borrowed $165,000 against the cemetery as collatoral
In 2010, James Delaney no longer had a license to operate the cemetery
In July 2015, James Delaney defaulted on a loan to Shree Ganesh Finance LLC when he used the cemetery as collateral on a loan.
In December 2010, folks were already having issues getting grave-markers on their burial lots even though they were paid in full according to an unofficial Facebook page for the cemetery.
On January 29th 2016 a deed on file at the Adams County Courthouse says Ramesh Rao bought the cemetery in Cumberland Township at a sheriff’s sale for $3,072. A realty transfer tax statement of value form on file at the courthouse says the property is assessed at $401,000.
In February 2016, burials were blocked from continuing at Oak Lawn Cemetery due to Ramesh Rao not having the proper license to operate a cemetery and conduct burials. Rao’s attorney says that Rao has the land, but not the business.
There are currently 573 veterans buried at the cemetery along with fire fighters and police officers.
James Delaney says all the records of burial lots are in the office at Oak Lawn. He also stated the sad state of the grounds is due to lack of staff after the staff quit when they heard about the sheriff’s sale.
Shree Ganesh Finance, LLC. is the Mortgage holder. Their office in MD is listed as forfeited. Their office in Gettysburg is listed as active at 226 Steinwehr Ave, which is King’s Pizza. We’re told the same owners also own the Mini-Mart on Steinwehr. Representative is Rajesh Patel and the business was started on 1/20/2010. Rajesh Patel’s address is listed as 3 Compass Rd. Middle River, Md. 21220.
Sheriff sale law office that handled it was Purcell, Krug, Haller – Leon P. Haller, Esq. Out of Harrisburg. 717 234 4178. Case # No 10-SU-591. This case was started back in May 2015. It was postponed at least 2 times until the following dates May 15, 2015 and July 17, 2015.
The bankruptcy does not appear to be settled yet.
What is Being Done and What Can I Do?
A Commissioner Meeting was held on March 2nd at 9am at the Adams County Courthouse and a few residents attended to speak up about the issues at Oak Lawn Cemetery. Commissioner Randy L. Phiel is also affected by this issue, as he has family members buried at Oak Lawn. Police are investigating if any wrong doing or crimes have been committed. The first item at the top of the list is to reinstate the burying of lot owners. The Commissioner, Randy L. Phiel, has also notified Veterans Administration of the 573 vets buried there. His remark was they were very very upset when learning what has taken place and the condition of Oak Lawn.
The Chief of Police, Don Boehs, is to schedule a public meeting soon, we will post details when we have them. The Cumberland Township Police are investigating.
Join a new Facebook Page created by a resident that is meant to support taking back Oak Lawn cemetery.
Questions People are Asking
Will my pre-purchased burial plot be honored? If not, will I receive a refund?
What happens if a loved one dies before this is figured out? What am I supposed to do if they have a plot here and I am not allowed to bury them?
Who will tend the current buried loved ones and veterans?
Is there a government agency that regulates this sort of thing?
Is the property private property now?
Was the money pre-purchased for lots put into a trust account?
Now that burials are allowed again, who is going to run the cemetery?
Who Can I Contact?
States Attorney’s Office, 11 N. 3rd Street, 16th Floor, Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, PA 17101.
Phone: 717-787-3391, Fax: 717-783-1107
Cumberland Township Police Tim Biggins stopped by the cemetery to let folks know that if they have deeds for lots, receipts for vaults etc. take them to their department to be copied as they are making a file. Lt. Guise there who is taking care of this.
Dan Moul advises for anyone affected by this mess to do the following:
1. File a complaint with State Real Estate Commission (Professional Licensing )within the Dept of State: http://www.doscomplaintform.state.pa.us/
2. File a complaint with PA Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection, Unfair Trade Practices and Cemetery and Funeral Merchandise Trust Fund Act: www.attorneygeneral.gov
3. Contact Middle District Court located at Ronald Reagan Federal Bldg & US Courthouse, 228 Walnut St, Harrisburg PA 17101;or Peter Welsh, Chief Deputy, at 717-221-3940. Please have the docket number ready so that they will know which matter you are referring to when contacting the court.
4. Because this matter is involved in various legal cases, I also recommend that you contact an attorney to help sort through this issue and provide legal guidance.
Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett and Cumberland Township Police are urging anyone who feels they may be a potential crime victim in the ongoing Oak Lawn Cemetery debacle to contact them. An electronic complaint form has been set up to take these complaints.
The Oak Lawn Debacle in the News
WGAL- March 8th 2016 “Adams County cemetery under investigation”
Gettysburg Times – March 7th 2016 “Cumberland Police secure Oak Lawn Cemetary records”
abc27 News – March 4th 2016 “DA, police investigating complaints against Adams County cemetery”
Evening Sun – March 4th 2016 “Burials to continue at Oak Lawn cemetery”
Gettysburg Times – March 3rd 2016 “Commissioners Asked to address Oaklawn”
Evening Sun – March 2nd 2016 “Gettysburg-area cemetery owner can’t bury people”
Evening Sun – March 2nd 2016 “Families outraged over cemetery conditions”
Gettysburg Times – March 2nd 2016 “Oaklawn owner: Burials on hold”
Gettysburg Times – March 2nd 2016 “Former owner of Oaklawn Gardens speaks out”
abc27 News – March 1st 2016 “Families demands answers as Midstate cemetery falls into disrepair”
Fox43 News – March 1st 2016 “‘It’s a Nightmare,’ Families upset after Adams County cemetery sold at sheriff’s sale”
WIFT – March 1st 2016 “New owner of midstate cemetery doesn’t have license to bury people”
Oak Lawn Updates Moving Forward
As we have updates, we will add them here.
March 2nd, 2016, 7:10pm: News 8 aired a report on the cemetery that said if this issue goes to court, it could be tied up for years. They also stated the district attorney and attorney general are now involved and investigating.
March 3rd, 2016: Gettysburg Times posted on Facebook that “Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett and Cumberland Township Police are urging anyone who feels they may be a potential crime victim in the ongoing Oak Lawn Cemetery debacle to contact them. An electronic complaint form has been set-up. Township Police and County Detectives are in the process of interviewing potential victims, witnesses and associates and gathering documents and records.”
March 3rd, 2016, 4:09pm: A resident went to visit the graveyard today and said that an older couple was there staking out plots. Another visitor to the cemetery said they were hired to do future burials for the cemetery. We are awaiting confirmation on this.
March 7th, 2016: Cumberland Police have secured the cemetery records and moved them to the police department and are currently marked as “pending resolution of administrative and possible criminal charges“. We also learned that “Current burial plot owners retain the right to bury deceased loved ones through their funeral director”
If you have an update on this situation, please contact us to let us know. Residents are always encouraged to leave comments on any article on Gettysburg Wire to express their voice and opinions.