St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
  • State lawmaker is accused of operating illegal cemetery
  • Records: Police received abuse report before boy's death
  • Supplier of voting machines purchased
  • Bush's drilling deal shields Glades, gulf
  • Democrats lose round in redistricting fight
  • Questions linger on extent of deals' protection

  • From the state wire

  • Hurricane Jeanne appears on track to hit Florida's east coast
  • Rumor mill working overtime after Florida hurricanes
  • Developments associated with Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne
  • Four killed in Panhandle plane crash were on Ivan charity mission
  • Hurricane Frances caused estimated $4.4 billion in insured damage
  • Disabled want more handicapped-accessible voting machines
  • USF forces administrators to resign over test score changes
  • Man's death at Universal Studios ruled accidental
  • State child welfare workers in Miami fail to do background checks
  • Hurricane Jeanne heads toward southeast U.S. coast
  • Hurricane Jeanne spurs more anxiety for storm-weary Floridians
  • Mistrial declared in case where teen was target of racial "joke"
  • Panhandle utility wants sewer plant moved to higher ground
  • State employee arrested on theft, bribery charges
  • Homestead house fire kills four children, one adult
  • Pierson leader tries to cut off relief to local fern cutters
  • Florida's high court rules Terri's law unconstitutional
  • Jacksonville students punished for putting stripper pole in dorm
  • FEMA handling nearly 600,000 applications for help
  • Man who killed wife, niece, self also killed mother in 1971
  • Producer sues city over lead ball fired by Miami police
  • Tourism suffers across Florida after pummeling by hurricanes
  • Key dates in the life of Terri Schiavo
  • An excerpt from the unanimous ruling in the Schiavo case
  • Four confirmed dead after small plane crash in Panhandle
  • Correction: Disney-Cruise Line story

    printer version

    State lawmaker is accused of operating illegal cemetery

    Two companies in which a House member is an officer are accused of violating state law 556 times.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 30, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- An Ocala legislator who tried to take the regulation of funeral homes and cemeteries away from Comptroller Bob Milligan this year was accused by Milligan on Wednesday of operating an illegal cemetery and failing to properly maintain trust funds.

    The charges were brought against two companies in which Rep. Dennis K. Baxley is an officer. Milligan alleges that the two companies violated state law 556 times. The charges are not criminal, but could endanger the business licenses and lead to fines totaling more than $2.7-million.

    Baxley, a Republican elected in 2000, is vice president of the companies that own the cemetery and operate Hiers-Baxley Funeral Homes in Ocala.

    The state wants to block future sales of pre-need contracts and cemetery plots until the problems are resolved. Those who purchased services and lots are not in danger of losing their investments, said Fred Carr, public affairs officer for the state agency.

    Baxley said he was surprised by the charges and questions whether they are an attempt to punish him for criticizing how the state has handled the investigation of other funeral homes and cemeteries.

    "I hope there was no political motivation in them coming after me," Baxley said. "I would certainly hope their professional integrity is well above that line."

    Baxley said he has met with lawyers from Milligan's office and believes the allegations can be amicably and quickly settled. He said the company already stopped selling lots in the cemetery and is providing perpetual care for it because it is adjacent to another, larger cemetery it also owns.

    Milligan's complaint accuses Hillcrest Cemetery, owned by the funeral home, with 218 unlicensed sales of cemetery plots and failure to maintain cemetery trust funds.

    The funeral home also is charged with 338 additional counts of violating trust fund laws and other matters.

    Baxley said all of the violations are accounting and licensing issues that have been the subject of past audits.

    "In this situation, no one has been harmed," Baxley said. "In South Florida and Daytona Beach, I saw people hurt and tried to make some changes in regulation."

    A Daytona Beach funeral home was investigated for mistreatment of bodies, burying them in the wrong location and allowing cemeteries to fall apart. Cemeteries in West Palm Beach and Broward County were accused last year of grave tampering and burying bodies in the wrong spots.

    Baxley said his company's cemetery is smaller than 5 acres and existed before the state regulated cemeteries. It is adjacent to a larger cemetery the companies operate.

    Baxley was the prime sponsor of a bill this year that would have moved the regulation of funeral homes and cemeteries from the Department of Banking and Finance to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The bill did not get out of a House committee.

    Baxley filed the bill in February, months after auditors from Milligan's office began auditing transactions at the funeral home and cemetery.

    Milligan said he did not oppose the change because he generally agrees that all matters relating to the funeral industry belong under one agency. Milligan's office handles pre-need sales at cemeteries and funeral homes because they involve the sale of advance contracts and need to be reviewed by someone with financial expertise.

    The Department of Business and Professional Regulation licenses funeral directors and crematoriums.

    "I didn't care who handled it as long as whoever did it could handle the pre-need side of the funeral business," Milligan said.

    Back to State news
    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
    Special Links
    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk