Bank Takes Over Financially Troubled Cemetery

GONZALES, LA (AP) — United Community Bank has moved to take possession of 29 acres of the financially troubled Oak Lane Memorial Park cemetery in Prairieville.

         The Advocate’s David J. Mitchell reports the bank is looking to resell the property after it posted the sole and winning bid Wednesday for the property at a sheriff's sale.

         The bank, which holds $3.3 million in loans that were defaulted on by the cemetery, bid $2.4 million for the property, more than twice the appraised price. Sheriff's officials say the bank does not pay that figure since it holds the debts owed.

         The sheriff's sale comes as the bank loans were foreclosed on and the Louisiana Cemetery Board is investigating how Oak Lane officials handled money for the graveyard that lies along La. 73 in Ascension Parish.

         Board officials have found clients were paying fees for perpetual care of cemetery plots, but trust accounts to hold the perpetual care money were not fully funded, according to court filings. Also, people were paying for new grave construction but the work was not finished.

         Cemetery Board Director Lucy McCann and Assistant Attorney General Ryan Seidemann, who represents the board, were present for the sale Wednesday at the parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales but declined comment.

         The 29 acres have not been developed as a cemetery and include fields, a barn, a house and other buildings.

         Bank attorney David Cohn, who was at the sale with bank officials, said afterward that the bank will not hold a buyer to the land's existing use, but the land could remain a cemetery.

         The land is near some of Ascension's more upscale developments, including the live oak-lined Seven Oaks subdivision along La. 73.

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