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Burr Oak Cemetery Could Reopen Next Month

A Cook County judge has granted $50,000  to the scandal plagued Burr Oak Cemetery, while the release of an additional $450,000 still hangs in the balance.

The $50,000 will pay for upkeep of the south suburban Alsip cemetery pending its reopening.

Cook County Circuit Judge Martin Agren released the funds to Roman Szabelski, the court-appointed receiver who is in charge of running the historic African-American cemetery.

The circuit court will decide Sept. 22 whether it will release the additional $450,000 that Szabelski requested from the $1.5 million cemetery-care trust fund.

The court first wants a repayment agreement in place between Perpetua, owner of Burr Oak Cemetery, and Bank of America, the fund’s trustee.

The cemetery’s assets were frozen after a grave-reselling scandal involving as many as 300 graves came to light. Burr Oak Cemetery was closed to the public July 13, and four employees have been charged with multiple felonies.

The receiver, along with family members affected by the scandal, are upset about the delay in the release of funds.

“It saddens us deeply that Perpetua is doing nothing,” said Blake Horwitz, an attorney for one of the families involved. “Their employees obviously created the problem, and for them to sit there and say they are not going to do anything is very confusing and upsetting.”

Representatives for Perpetua declined to comment.

James C. Geoly, an attorney for receiver Szabelski, said the cemetery cannot reopen without the additional $450, 000.

Geoly said the $50,000 released Aug. 26 will be enough to bring back staff and cover upkeep costs, at least until the next hearing date.

“When Szabelski became receiver, there was a long list of tasks that needed to start to happen for the cemetery to reopen. And almost none of them have been able to start because there have been no funds,” said Geoly.

Among the projects that must be completed before the cemetery reopens are re-sodding, roadway maintenance, and safety repairs to pillars and buildings.

Geoly said more work on the database of cemetery burial records also will need to be done before the cemetery can open.

“Some of this has been done but the major physical projects require funds,” Geoly said.

Horwitz, an attorney representing some of the families who’ve sued, said time is critical because it’s not  known how deep the bodies are buried or what kind of contamination may be occurring, especially given the recent rain.

“Families are still at a loss to know what’s going on,” Horwitz said.

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