A year-long battle between the Mississippi Secretary of State and the owner of two neglected Meridian cemeteries heated up in court Tuesday.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann asked Lauderdale County Chancery Court Judge Jerry Mason to incarcerate William “Bill” Arlinghaus Jr. for failing to comply with an injunction requiring him to report weekly collections at two neglected cemeteries.
Mason held Arlinghaus in civil contempt but declined the state’s request to put him in jail, saying that incarcerating Arlinghaus would prevent him from fulfilling his injunction obligations. Mason fined Arlinghaus $500, for the state’s attorneys’ fees, and ordered Arlinghaus to file reports by May 30.
The state first took legal action against Arlinghaus in June of 2016, following complaints at Meridian Memorial Park Cemetery, at 9590 Old Highway 80 W, and Magnolia Cemetery, at 2638 23rd Ave.
Families complained to the Hosemann’s office about footstones they paid for and never received, overgrown grass and graves in need of attention. When the state investigated, it found $33,000 missing in perpetual need trust funds. The state requested an injunction against Arlinghaus for neglect at the two cemeteries and that injunction was granted in August.
As part of that injunction, Arlinghaus was required to submit weekly reports about the collections of previously sold cemetery goods and services, internments and entombment sales. The state does not have full control over the budget for the cemeteries, nor does the injunction prevent Arlinghaus from burying the dead, the Secretary of State’s office said in October.
In April, Hosemann seemed optimistic the sale of the cemeteries would proceed after Arlinghaus filed paperwork in Michigan to reinstate his business, Greenscape Michigan, Inc. For Arlinghaus to sell the cemeteries, the company had to be reinstated.
Leah Rupp Smith, Hosemann’s assistant of communications, said that the state could only approve the contract, which was already done, but wouldn’t have a role in finalizing the agreement.
“It is our understanding that the parties have signed a purchase agreement,” Smith said. “Now they have to proceed with closing.”
The finalization of the sale depends on Arlinghaus meeting the terms of the contract.
Arlinghaus testified Tuesday that the sale is imminent, anticipating its completion in two weeks, according to Mason’s bench opinion.
A second hearing is scheduled for May 31.