Lawyer: State was aware cemetery operated without certification - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Lawyer: State was aware cemetery operated without certification

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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BARTLETT, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Galilee Memorial Gardens was shut down last week and the owner arrested.

Attorney Howard Manis, representing a family whose loved one was lost, said Galilee Memorial had been operating without a certificate since 2010.

MORE: Cemetery owner arrested
MORE: Cemetery owner charged with abuse of a corpse in court Tuesday
MORE: Cemetery owner charged with abuse of a corpse


Manis said the State of Tennessee was aware of the illegal operation the whole time.

DOWNLOAD: Read affidavit of complaint

The investigation into the closure of Galilee Memorial Gardens was initiated when a suit was filed by Joe Johnson. He says Galilee lost his daughter's body.

Ranesha Johnson left behind a young son, who Johnson is now raising.

"Knowing they can't find her makes it even harder for me," Johnson said. "Because I raised her, I'm raising my grandson. He's only seven-years-old. He doesn't understand why."

Thirty-eight-year-old Jemar Lambert, the owner of Galilee Memorial Gardens, was arrested and charged with abuse of a corpse. Court documents say he buried bodies on someone else's property and buried people in mass graves.

The State of Tennessee says Lambert is the bad actor, but Manis said the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance should have stepped in years ago.

"The lack of amount of investigation that took place by that office is just ridiculous," Manis said.

Court documents say a plot of three graves contained 12 bodies, and a plot of 13 graves contained 39 bodies. An eyewitness reported Galilee Memorial workers used backhoes to crush caskets to make room for more bodies.

Manis said in 2011 a restraining order was issued to stop the cemetery from burying more bodies, but Lambert kept on operating, with the knowledge of the state.

Documents show Galilee even filed annual reports to the state.

"You would think that would have been enough to say, 'We need to shut these people down,'" Manis said. "But not only did that not stop them, they continued to bury bodies after the restraining order."

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance told FOX13 News the state has been trying to bring Galilee Memorial into compliance since early 2011 and pursued every legal avenue.

The spokesperson said it was the state's petition to take over that finally halted burials at Galilee last week. But Johnson says that was too late for his daughter, who was buried last year. He just wants somewhere to take his grandson to visit his mother.

"I'm struggling, I'm struggling," Johnson said. "It's hard for me to move forward. I'm just looking for some closure as of right now I don't see it."

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