The former owner of Oaklawn Memorial Gardens said Tuesday the new owner was aware the land used as loan collateral was a cemetery and “several white flags” were raised before burials were halted last week; but he cannot answer what will happen to those who pre-purchased lots, caskets or vaults.
James DeLaney and his son Daryn DeLaney told the Times they were managing the land under an assumed agreement beginning when Ramesh Rao took ownership of it on Jan. 28 and ending Feb. 19. James DeLaney purchased Oaklawn Memorial Gardens in 1978. According to state records, he has not had a license to operate a cemetery since 2010.
“I told him what we would do as contractors. I was going to be responsible for the management of the cemetery, the arrangement of the funerals – everything we had done before. They own everything, they pay for everything. We don’t own anything,” James DeLaney said.
James DeLaney said he and Rao discussed the agreement informally through email and forwarded the conversation to his attorney Matthew Battersby to formalize a contract.
“I told Mr. Mirchandani (Rao’s broker) ‘we haven’t had money for five weeks. You haven’t paid for fuel, you haven’t paid for this, you haven’t done anything.’ This was a Sunday night (Feb. 21),” James Delany said. “I said ‘if we’re not paid by Tuesday, we’re out by Wednesday; by the way, you have a funeral to service on Wednesday.’ I never heard anything.”
Rao said Sunday he is not a licensed cemetery operator and is trying to find one who is willing to continue the business. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Oaklawn Cemetery story has caused lot owners and those who pre-paid for funeral services much anxiety since it came to light last week. The DeLaneys explained Tuesday that the transfer of land started with a loan in 2007.
James DeLaney borrowed $165,000, using the land as collateral, from Shree Ganesh Finance LLC and Rajesh Patel in 2007. The agreement called for DeLaney to repay the loan in monthly installments over two years, according to documents on file in the Adams County Courthouse.
DeLaney failed to fulfill the agreement and in April 7, 2010 Shree Ganesh Finance LLC filed a Confession of Judgement complaint against DeLaney, which rolled the business from bankruptcy court into the loan.
In September of 2013, Shree Ganesh Finance LLC and Patel borrowed $160,000 from Rao, with the cemetery as collateral.
In July 2015, Oaklawn Memorial Gardens went to sheriff’s sale. With DeLaney owing Shree Ganesh Finance LLC and Patel and those two owing Rao, the sale went to court. Adams County Judge John Kuhn determined in December 2015 the land belonged to Rao and that sale was finalized via sheriff in January 2016.
James DeLaney said Battersby warned all parties they would not just get a plot of land, but a cemetery with active agreements.
“Who would buy a tract of land that is a cemetery and not expect there are people to be served?” James DeLaney said. “The lot owners cannot even get a burial arranged.”
The DeLaneys said all records of pre-purchased burial lots and other items such as caskets and vaults are in the office at Oaklawn.
“Nothing has been messed with. We do not have the interest to harm these people,” Daryn DeLaney said.
When the reporter started to ask what happened to all of the money people gave James DeLaney for pre-purchased lots, caskets and vaults, he cut him off.
“Was everything delivered while I was there?” James DeLaney asked.
The question was asked again to be sure James DeLaney understood the question was about those who prepaid for services and have not yet died.
“I can’t answer, I don’t know what Mr. Rao’s going to do. It was delivered while I was there. It was going to be delivered while I was there with Mr. Rao, to my knowledge. That was the way it was structured, that’s the way it was designed in the agreement,” James DeLaney said.
When asked “what happened to their money?” James DeLaney said “You have to ask Mr. Rao, he owns the property. He owns everything.”
But those who pre-purchased items gave the money to DeLaney.
“Yes, sir,” James DeLaney said. “I really question who is supposed to be in the saddle, I don’t know.”
Daryn DeLaney added that when his father purchased the property and business in 1978, he honored all agreements made by the previous owner.
“Each owner has taken on the previous owner’s responsibilities, until now; and that’s the question we cannot answer, to make it real simple,” he said.
James DeLaney has not been a licensed cemetery operator since May 31, 2010 according to state records. When asked about working without a license for more than five years, DeLaney said he discussed the matter with the state.
“We had talked and because I was in bankruptcy I was not sure if I was in business any more so that’s where we left it,” he said.
Many lot owners have also questioned the current condition of Oaklawn Memorial Gardens, saying it is in disrepair. James DeLaney acknowledged the poor appearance, and said it began to deteriorate last year when his staff quit.
“We had two or three employees who had been with us for more than a year. When they heard the sheriff’s sale was going to occur, they thought ‘I am not going to have a job.’” Jim DeLaney said. “One person cannot do everything. It’s beyond the scope.”
When asked about huge rivets in the ground, some near and over grave markers, Delaney explained that the snow storm in January softened the land and it was difficult to see where the grave markers were with so much snow on them.
“People are asking questions with no common sense behind it,” Daryn DeLaney said.
“If your equipment is any amount of weight, you’re going to make ruts.” James DeLaney added.
Both DeLaneys said after owning the cemetery for more than three decades, they find it unfortunate that it now stands in disrepair with lot owners unable to access their plots.
“This isn’t trying to cloud the issue with a whole bunch of mumbo jumbo. This isn’t trying to cloud the issue. It’s to show you that the white flag could have been raised a long time ago but it wasn’t,” DeLaney said.
Adams County Commissioner Chairman Randy Phiel said Tuesday his office and other county offices have received numerous calls from concerned citizens during the past week.
Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett and Cumberland Township Police are investigating the matter, Phiel said, with hopes that citizens are disrupted as little as possible.
“We will be using all resources available to us and coordinate with other agencies in attempting to ensure the residents and families of our community are protected and cared for in resolving this unacceptable situation,” Phiel said.