Cemetery agrees to $1 million in customer refunds

May 13, 1994|By Joel Obermayer | Joel Obermayer,Sun Staff Writer

A Laurel cemetery has agreed to refund at least $1 million to customers who were overcharged for burial contracts, the Maryland Attorney General's office announced yesterday.

The payments are to settle a lawsuit first filed by the office's

Consumer Protection Division in 1992, after it received dozens of complaints about Maryland National Memorial Park in Laurel. The cemetery will also pay the state a $100,000 fine.

Assistant Attorney General Rebecca Bowman said the cemetery had been spending customer money it was supposed to hold in escrow and had been illegally charging interest on the long-term burial contracts it sells.

Contract buyers typically pay several thousand dollars to arrange their burials, often decades before their deaths.

"The cemetery is supposed to make sure there is enough money available 30 years later to pay for burial vaults and [digging graves]," Ms. Bowman said. "If the money isn't in escrow, consumers might end up with nothing."

Maryland National also was charging hundreds of consumers interest for burial vault purchases, even though the company had only a few vaults on hand, the Attorney General's office said.

The company's actions violated a 1984 state law regulating burial contracts, the Attorney General's office said.

Ms. Bowman said consumers who purchased burial agreements from the cemetery since 1984 are entitled to a refund of 60 percent of the interest they paid. She estimated the refunds will be as much as $800 per contract.

Anyone who believes he or she is entitled to a refund should write the Consumer Protection Division at 200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore 21202, or call (410) 528-8662.

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