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Former cemetery owner from Seven Valleys charged with theft
Police say the York County owner of a Gettysburg cemetery did not honor pre-purchase agreements with hundreds of people over the many years he owned the business. Additionally, police say about 70 percent of the money he received for the items and services was expected by law to go into a trust fund or escrow account but was not placed there.
On Tuesday, after months of investigation and more than 1,000 interviews, Cumberland Township Police charged James H. Delaney Jr., 69, of Seven Valleys, with theft by deception and violation of cemetery and funeral merchandise trust fund law, according to charging documents. Delaney is the former owner of Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens, 1380 Chambersburg Road, Gettysburg, and the investigation began in February, according to police.
Cumberland Township Police Lt. Tim Guise said the investigation started when people found out the cemetery had been sold in a sheriff's sale in July and the ownership was transferred in January. Delaney had owned the cemetery since 1979, police said.
Allegations: Guise said that in February, the department was getting many calls from customers wondering what the change in ownership would mean for the items they had purchased.
“We’re still taking reports nearly every day,” he said.
Charging documents state Delaney received about $1.48 million from merchandise, and more than 600 people have come forward saying they have made purchases over the past 25 years.
One woman alleged she ordered a memorial marker from Delaney and also approved a design for it, but police say they found Delaney had not placed the order for the marker.
Another woman told police that a pre-paid casket was not provided by the cemetery when her husband died, causing her to spend an additional $800 at a funeral home to get a casket for her husband, according to documents.
A man told authorities the marker for his son's grave site was not placed initially, prompting him to buy another, police said. The marker was ordered in October and shipped in November, documents state.
"The marker remained lying on a sidewalk in front of the business until May of 2016, at which time possession was taken by the family," Guise wrote in the documents.
In addition to those accusations, police allege Delaney did not properly deposit the money received for the merchandise.
"Accordingly 70 percent of the moneys paid to Oak Lawn for that merchandise should be housed in a trust or escrow-type account maintained by the Philadelphia Trust Co. and specifically earmarked to the individual person," Guise wrote in the documents.
According to police, about $1.036 million should be in the accounts. Police say no deposits have been made to those accounts since 2010.
Online court records indicate Delaney was arraigned Tuesday night and remains in Adams County Prison in lieu of $1 million bail.
Reports: Nearly 700 people have come forward alleging they had made purchases from Delaney, according to Guise. About 470 of those people had purchased merchandise, and the rest had purchased plots, Guise said.
Guise said because of the volume of people coming in, police eventually put a form on the Cumberland Township website for people to report their experiences with the cemetery.
“We were getting inundated with people coming here,” he said, adding that two more people had come forward with information on Tuesday, the day police filed charges.
A list of alleged victims has been posted on the Cumberland Township website — found here — and Guise asked that anyone who has spoken to police about their purchases with the cemetery check the list to make sure their name is included. If their name is not included, they should call police at 717-334-6485. The website also includes the form for those who wish to report a purchase made with the cemetery.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.