- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

DELAWARE, Ohio (AP) - The families who chose Fairview Memorial Park for their loved ones’ final resting place say they deserved better.

The troubled cemetery at 5035 Columbus Pike has been in disarray, with un-mowed grass and some of its grave markers sinking.

Owners Theodore and Arminda Martin are in federal prison on tax-evasion convictions.

The couple also was indicted locally this year on charges of running a criminal enterprise by selling dozens of customers headstones, vaults, bronze plaques and other services that were never delivered.

Paul O’Bryan, of Delaware, and others don’t want the neglect of the cemetery to worsen, or the indignity to linger. They’ve been mowing and pruning and weeding daily since Theodore Martin’s arrest last month.

“I’ve got family buried out here,” O’Bryan said, taking a break from more than five hours of pushing his 21-inch Craftsman mower that he gassed up three times. “It’s just out of respect. It’s the right thing to do.”

His father, brother, grandmother and stepfather are buried on the flat grounds; most of the property is in Berlin Township south of the city of Delaware.

Typically, when a cemetery can’t operate because of bankruptcy, owner death or dissolution, it is taken over by the township or city in which it sits.

The Delaware County prosecutor’s office filed a motion on May 9 to dissolve the Martins’ business and immediately appoint a receiver to take over. A hearing Friday will determine if that happens. The office said that the Martins used the cemetery “to further their criminal purposes or as a subterfuge to engage in criminal activity or attempted federal tax evasion.”

Theodore Martin also is accused of using a forged check and money taken from an allegedly scammed customer to post his bond at the Delaware County Jail last month in a racketeering and theft case. After his release on bond, federal agents picked him up and sent him to federal prison.

Detectives monitoring his jail phone calls became aware of the bond scheme, said Mark Sleeper, an assistant county prosecutor.

Sleeper said that Theodore Martin continues to deny wrongdoing, saying that he inherited the financial mess from the previous owner in 2007.

“He certainly has attempted to portray himself as a victim,” said Sleeper. “But he has put a breathtaking amount of money into slot machines with funds the public made for cemetery purchases.”

The same situation is occurring at the Martin-owned Grandview Memorial Park cemetery in northeastern Ohio’s Portage County, where Stephen Colecchi, a longtime hospital president and lawyer, was just appointed receiver and will “locate all assets held by the entity in receivership in order to protect the interests of those individuals who may have claims,” he said in an email.

He said he also is entitled to be paid, but added, “I don’t know if there are assets to do so.”

Meanwhile, Ravenna Township is mowing the cemetery property and will file liens on it to do so.

The saga is taking a toll on families, said Christopher Betts, another Delaware County assistant prosecutor.

“It’s a critical situation from an emotional aspect. You’ve got people buried there, and they should be treated with respect.”

O’Bryan, 49, has sought the use of mowing equipment or labor from businesses for his Fairview Memorial Park effort, but, he said, “I don’t like to ask for stuff.”

A work crew saw him struggling with his mower last week and agreed to help. Ninety minutes later, the job was done. Alone, O’Bryan figures it will take days to mow.

Stephanie Howard’s grandparents and uncle are buried at Fairview. She has a prepaid gravesite so as not to burden her children.

Howard was surprised last year when Theodore Martin stopped by her house to try to sell her a $5,000 headstone with a bronze plaque.

“The way he was acting told me something wasn’t right,” she said; she learned later of his financial troubles.

Howard has found someone to repaint the cemetery sign, and she has helped spruce up headstones.

Each time she passes in her car, she sends a signal that things will work out.

“I turn my radio off. And I honk three times for each relative - out of respect.”

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