William Anthony Green may be the most controversial pet cemetery owner in Maryland, but his legal woes stretch far beyond his 22,000-plot cemetery in Elkridge.
By the time he was charged in October with fraud, theft and deceptive trade practices at his Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park, Green already had been charged in five criminal cases, and at least 30 civil suits had been filed against him or his companies.
Since 1978, he has formed at least seven real estate development corporations and folded five, leaving more than 60 creditors across the state seeking close to a half-million dollars.
Green is on probation for illegally cremating animals and faces bad-check charges. And this week, 54 acres of the Sykesville development where he has a home are to be auctioned because he has not paid his mortgage.
In addition, his neighbors say he has deceived them.
"You trust that man and you're up a creek," says Joyce Williams, who has pets buried at Green's pet cemetery near U.S. 1. and Route 176. "You're better off trusting a rattlesnake. He doesn't seem he should be anywhere near human beings, let alone animals -- alive or dead."
Some who know Green, a past president of the Ellicott City Rotary Club, describe him as charming and amiable.
"He's a very outgoing, very friendly and very enthusiastic guy," says Dr. Fred Lewis, a Clarksville veterinarian and Rotary member. "He's done a lot of good in the community. He's donated a lot of his time to things he seems to care about."
Green, 45, refused to talk about any of the allegations against him for this article. Several lawyers who represented him in civil -- and criminal suits also refused to comment or did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Green has denied charges that he intentionally gave the wrong pet ashes to owners and failed to deliver costly grave markers. In a telephone interview in October, he blamed problems at his Elkridge pet cemetery on his employees.
"You can't pay someone $50,000 a year to work in a pet cemetery," he said. "Sure, I've made some mistakes in hiring people."
Critics "just don't understand," Green said. "When people turn their animals over to me, it's my job to get them cremated and taken care of. I don't sell them to a pawnshop or something crazy."
His criminal trial on theft charges is to begin Feb. 28 in Howard District Court. If convicted, he could face 15-year sentences on two of the charges.
Directors of other pet cemeteries say the Green case illustrates the need for rules to regulate their owners. Maryland is one of 45 states that have no laws governing pet cemetery owners.
Robin Lauver, president of the National Association of Pet Funeral Directors in Mechanicsburg, Pa., says he has received several complaints about Green from Maryland pet owners.
"With Green, you've got someone who's getting into the business to make money," says Lauver, who has talked with Howard County consumer affairs officials about the case. "He realized it isn't a lucrative business, so he started cutting corners not delivering on promises to people."
Similarly, state consumer protection officials point to cases such as Green's as evidence of the need to begin licensing real estate developers.
"One of the things licensing does is keep out people who have left a lot of people in the lurch," says Rebecca G. Bowman, an assistant attorney general in the Consumer Protection Division. "A cosmetologist, the person who cuts your hair, has to go through more hoops" than a homebuilder.
Since Green entered the development business in 1978, he has formed at least seven corporations, five of which have folded or filed for bankruptcy, according to state incorporation and federal bankruptcy records.
Green and those businesses, which list the cemetery office as their headquarters, have been sued at least 30 times, according to court records in Baltimore and in Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties. Of those suits, 12 ended in judgments against Green; seven were settled, with Green paying money or promising to pay money; and 11 are pending.
The plaintiffs include subcontractors seeking money for unpaid bills, county and state governments claiming back taxes and customers demanding the return of deposits for homes they say Green did not build.
By his own estimation, Green and one of his former companies owe $462,000 to 65 creditors, according to his corporate and personal bankruptcy filings in federal court in Baltimore.
There is nothing illegal about opening and closing companies. Consumer protection officials say that closing a financially troubled company and reopening under a different name is common among developers who want to protect their assets and continue doing business.