Update: 5th report on Galilee Memorial Gardens

Photo by Tyrone Randall.
Galilee Cemetery grave marker. Photo by Tyrone Randall.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) released the fifth interim report today, July 15, on the status of Galilee Memorial Gardens, listing progress made to date and priorities for the remaining tasks.

Some repairs have been made and one afternoon of visitation allowed, and it remains a priority to sort out claims to the cemetery’s remaining burial spaces.

Galilee hit the headlines in 2013 and 2014 over allegations of land theft to bury bodies, multiple bodies being buried in the same spot, and haphazard or missing records about where bodies were placed. In March, owner Jemar Lambert pleaded guilty in a deal that left him with 10 years’ probation. He still faces costly class-action civil lawsuits.

One of the responsibilities of the TDIC is the regulation of funeral home and cemetery practices. The TDIC successfully petitioned the Davidson County Chancery Court to close the cemetery in January 2014 and put it into receivership. “Receivership” means that the property is under someone’s official custody while legal issues are being sorted out. Memphis attorney David Kustoff was appointed as deputy receiver of the cemetery, making him the local person responsible for managing the business while it is under the court’s control.

Interim burials

To date, no burials have been held at Galilee since the beginning of the receivership. One family inquired about using their burial space around June 29, but they then made alternate arrangements for their family member to be buried elsewhere.

According to today’s report, the receiver has set up the following procedure if someone dies while the property is in receivership and a previously purchased pre-need space must be used:

  1. The person responsible for the deceased person must provide sufficient proof of ownership of the burial space.
  2. The funeral home should contact RMI to request permission for burial.
  3. Once ownership of the burial space is confirmed, RMI will give the funeral home contact a map to show where the lot is located.
  4. Long’s Cemetery Service in Memphis is the organization that will probe all grave spaces during the receivership to ensure that they are vacant. It’s proposed that Long’s be the sole source for openings and closings during receivership to ensure consistency and communication with RMI regarding the status of such burials.

Urgent call for plot owners

In the report and accompanying conversations with area media contacts, the TDCI noted that the Aug. 15 deadline for making a claim on vacant burial plots at Galilee is very close. See our earlier story for details on how to contact the TDCI to claim rights to burial plots already purchased.

As of July 7, there were 91 claims of ownership of burial plots.

Progress cited in fifth interim report

  • Contact of claim holders: People began receiving notices around June 1, 2015, via U.S. mail regarding their claims of pre-need burial purchases at the cemetery. Those contacted were the people who had previously reached out to the TDCI and special deputy receiver to inquire about their rights to the burial plots and services they had purchased at Galilee.
  • Signage for claim holders: Special deputy receiver Robert Moore of Receivership Management Inc. (RMI) posted a sign at the cemetery to notify visitors about the need to call his company at (615) 370-0051 by Aug. 15, 2015, if they believed they own a lot in the cemetery.
  • Press release for claim holders: Area newspapers and TV channels received and published information on how people need to claim their burial plots.
  • Brief visit: The cemetery opened 2-5 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, for families to visit their loved ones’ graves and witness a memorial service. They parked at Faith Baptist Church and stood in line to take a shuttle to the cemetery. The event was coordinated with the city of Bartlett, leaders and volunteers from Fullview Missionary Baptist Church and Faith Baptist Church, with flowers donated by Flowers By Regis.
  • Property expansion: An adjoining 3.6 acres of property was added to Galilee. The report states that the N.I.M. Charitable Remainder Unitrust Agreement of Robert F. and Martha H. Fogelman provided the deed to the new land. The deed was recorded in Shelby County on June 1, 2015.
  • Road repairs: The special deputy receiver overseeing the cemetery ensured that some necessary road and culvert repairs were completed to ensure visitors’ safety. The repairs totalled $21,450 and were drawn on or about July 3 from Galilee’s Improvement Care Trust Account at Commercial Bank and Trust.
  • Maintenance: Regular mowing continues through the summer season. Arrangements have been made to clear:
    • A large grassy area near the office at the back of the cemetery
    • Mounds of pine needles
    • Thickets that needed to be trimmed but were not cleared through the regular mowings
  • Auditing: Moor began auditing the “Garden of Gethsemane” section of Galilee on June 8 and also began producing maps of the other gardens. Moore is ensuring that each grave space in Gethsemane is probed, and he will move forward with a complete probing audit of the remaining gardens.
  • Identification of grave spaces: In RMI’s audit of the Garden of Gethsemane (originally platted to have only 845 spaces), there were 1,153 grave spaces identified in both the platted and non-platted areas of the cemetery. For those spaces, the following information applies:
    • There are 86 spaces that are not useable because of their dimensions or the proximity of trees.
    • There are 305 marked grave spaces. Of those, 36 have markers with dates of death, but the spaces are vacant.
    • There are 392 burial spaces that are occupied but not marked.
    • There are 370 burial spaces that remain vacant. Of those, 40 are not useable because of location or dimensions. Of those vacant spaces, many have had burials recorded in the records of the cemetery. Spaces were as large as 3.5 feet by 9 feet and as small as 3 feet by 6.5 feet. Platted border areas were used up to the edge of the road. It may be necessary for RMI to place additional dirt on top of some grave spaces to maintain the cemetery grounds because some spaces lack adequate depth. There is no consistency on grave space dimensions or use of the platting system.

Priorities for remaining tasks

Editor’s note: Check back for this information. The report is still being reviewed.

Financial details


The cost of receivership for the cemetery had totalled $295,819.77 as of July 7. That covers bills for services of the special deputy receivers through May 2015 as well as honoraria to recognize two area churches for their help in arranging the Memorial Day cemetery visits for family members.

Of that total, $21,450 was reimbursed for improvement care of the property (see details below) from the proceeds of the Improvement Care Trust.

The remaining amount was paid from the Cemetery Consumer Protection Account. As of May 31, the Cemetery Consumer Protection Account had a balance of $200,528.34.

The full report

The PDF version of the fifth interim report can be accessed at this link: http://bartlett-express.com/?p=13660.

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to bartlett.editor@journalinc.com.