Alleged fraud dug up at cemetery



In less than two years, Janice Jonsin bore the deaths of her mother and son, only to relive the trauma in May 2012, when both graves were exhumed as part of an investigation of fraud.

A lawsuit Jonsin filed against Leland Smith, owner of San Luis Cemetery, claims that Jonsin’s mother bought several pre-interment plans in 1998 and 1999, including burial plots and high-quality, stainless steel vaults for herself and her grandson—but that both were buried in cheaper, concrete vaults. According to Jonsin’s complaint, she was informed of her mother’s pre-paid plan when making her funeral arrangements in 2010, but no mention was made of a similar plan existing for her son until after he was buried in 2011. Jonsin claims she paid $2,666 for her son’s concrete vault and $6,820 for his casket, not knowing her mother had already paid $2,400 for his stainless steel vault and $5,000 for his casket. Jonsin filed a complaint with the cemetery and Funeral Bureau of the Department of Consumer Affairs in February, and authorized a field agent to oversee the unearthing of her family members in order to compare their resting places to the pre-paid interment plans. The agent found that both were buried in vaults of poorer quality than what was purchased.

Citation letters were issued against Smith and San Luis Cemetery in September for misrepresentation and unprofessional conduct with fines totaling $1,500. According to a spokesperson for consumer affairs, such citation letters are minor in nature, equivalent to fix-it tickets. The fines were promptly paid.

Jonsin declined to comment, but her attorney, Lou Koory, said that interment plans typically go into a trust, where they accrue interest in order to cover rising material costs due to inflation. The use of such funds has to be certified, he said, meaning it would be compared to the plan with itemized expenses.

“This was not a casual mistake,” he said.

Though Leland Smith and his attorney, Thomas Minehan of Santa Barbara, did not return requests for comment, they included 15 affirmative defenses in their official response to the complaint, claiming that Jonsin has already been reimbursed and that the mistake stemmed from negligence on behalf of the cemetery’s previous owner, who originally sold the pre-paid plans to Jonsin’s mother.

The matter is scheduled for discussion in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Jan. 10 for a case management conference.

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