Funeral family asks court to intervene in dispute

January 3, 2008

A family that once owned Forest Lawn Memory Gardens and Funeral Home in Greenwood has asked a Johnson County court to put the business into receivership amid questions about the status of trust funds set aside to pay funeral expenses and maintenance.

Fred Meyer Jr., along with a son, Jim Meyer, and a daughter, Nancy Cade, filed the papers in Johnson Superior Court yesterday. Another son, Tom Meyer, is not a party to filing.

The family wants a receiver to operate the business to ensure $24 million in trust funds are handled correctly, and permission to undertake discovery to determine their status.

"The Meyer family has grown increasingly concerned about this," said the family's attorney, Wayne Turner. "We really need to know the truth."

The cemeteries' owner, Robert Nelms, was not immediately available for comment. He owns Ansure Mortuaries of Indiana LLC, which is based in Indianapolis.

Nelms bought 12 companies owned by the Meyer family in December 2004 for $13 million in cash and $7.3 million in seller financing. The debt was to be settled as a balloon payment when a Nelms trust matured, said Turner, a partner in McTurnan & Turner, an Indianapolis firm that merged this year with Bingham McHale.

Included in the sale were Covington Memorial Gardens & Funeral Home in Fort Wayne and Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens & Funeral Home in Osceola, which is near South Bend. Also part of the deal was a fourth funeral and cemetery property, Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Two days after Christmas, the Michigan Cemetery Commissioner sued Nelms in Michigan to stop him from gaining further access to trust funds for the Grand Rapids cemetery. Approximately $4.3 million of the total $24 million in trust funds was allocated to the Grand Rapids site.

Files from the Michigan case show that Nelms replaced the trust funds with debt backed by an entity called Indiana Investment LLC, but Turner said it isn't clear where the money ultimately was directed.

Turner said he has found no evidence that any of the $24 million in the trust funds still exists.

This summer, the Meyer family asked the Indiana Attorney's Office as well as the Indiana Secretary of State and Marion County Prosecutor's Office to investigate the matter.

Turner said he isn't privy to their findings.

Indiana Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Staci Schneider would only confirm that an investigation is under way. Representatives of the Secretary of State's Office and prosecutor's office could not immediately be reached for comment.

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