As if burying a beloved mother and wife wasn't difficult enough, an Anne Arundel County family says it was robbed in the process.
Lillian Dye's grieving husband paid thousands of dollars for a headstone that was never delivered, even almost a year later.
The Dyes are one of more than a dozen families with a similar story. They trusted Maryland Memorials to create a beautiful marker for their loved ones, only to find the shop abruptly closed and their phone calls and messages never returned.
Victoria Katona and her two boys visit her mother's grave often, and each time, they bring flowers.
"Just a way of making sure she knows, we still think about her, we still love her," Katona said.
It's also how they mark her grave, because there's no headstone for Lillian Dye, a loving wife, mother and grandmother affectionately nicknamed "Wink" by her loved ones.
She died from pancreatic cancer on July 4, 2013, just two months after doctors diagnosed her with the disease.
"She's irreplaceable and it's hard to come to just a plot of dirt and it's basically, you know, what we've been looking at for almost a year," Katona said.
In September, after coming up with enough money, the family went to James Kinsey of Maryland Memorials in Glen Burnie and paid $3,400 for a headstone. Katona said Kinsey told her he would have a mock-up ready in three days.
"Contacted him, he said they were backed up," she said. "You know, it would be within five days, and then after the check cleared, we never heard from him again."
In December, Katona found the office closed and realized she wasn't the only one taken for her money.
"Other customers had signs on the door, I want my money, or I want my product, here's my phone number," she said. "We figured out relatively early on that we were probably in trouble and were probably not going to get what we ordered."
After receiving more than a dozen complaints, the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight suspended Kinsey's license on Jan. 7 and is actively investigating the business.
Similarly, the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland has 13 Maryland Memorial complaints on file that have gone unresolved.
"These complaints totaled over 30,000 dollars that consumers had actually put out for grave markers and additional items, so it was a lot of money involved with these consumers," said Jody Thomas, vice president of communications for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.
It's thousands of dollars that we wanted to track down, so we headed to Kinsey's Ellicott City home. No one was home the first time we stopped by, but the second time, we found Kinsey mowing his lawn. Despite our questions to Kinsey, we got the same silent treatment his customers received.
"What kind of a man takes advantage of grieving families in that way? Katona said. "And that's probably the first thing I'd say to him. What kind of person are you to take advantage of grieving families and steal their money?"
For now, Katona takes comfort in a handmade marker friends gave the family to put at the grave site. She has started a GoFundMe account in the hopes of raising enough money to pay for a proper headstone for her mother. The family is about $3,000 shy of their $4,300 goal.
"To go to an unmarked grave, and feel like, we feel like we've failed her in some way, that we don't have a way to properly honor her," she said.
Pending the outcome of the investigation, Kinsey could possibly face criminal charges. Court records show Susquehanna Bank is seeking a $90,000 judgment against Maryland Memorials, a second $90,000 against another company Kinsey owns and $60,000 against Kinsey himself.
The Office of Cemetery Oversight is offering tips to protect consumers when they are making funeral arrangements:
- Never pay the full amount up front and in cash.
- When you do pay, use a credit card because you could later dispute the charge if you do not receive the goods or services.
- Check with the Office of Cemetery Oversight to see if the business is licensed.
- Make sure to ask for a firm delivery and installation date for your monument, and if it's a special order, ask for a date by when you can check back on the progress.