(WGN-AM)- Roman Szabelski, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was appointed today to oversee operations at Burr Oak Cemetery, where authorities say as many as 300 bodies were dug up and the graves resold.
The court appointment comes a day after attorneys from several county and state agencies, as well as a law firm representing more than 100 people whose relatives are buried at Burr Oak, agreed to find an expert to take charge of the day-to-day operations at the cemetery.
That will include maintaining Burr Oak, identifying those buried there and locating their grave sites, and finding or reconstructing any financial records.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to the appoint of Szabelski to oversee operations at Burr Oak Cemetery.
"Roman Szabelski's many years of experience and personal dedication as a respected cemetery administrator make him well suited for this difficult and sensitive appointment," Cardinal Francis George said in a statement. "I hope that Mr. Szabelski's appointment will begin the process to restore respect for the remains of the dead and provide healing for the living."
In the statement, Szabelski said: "As I take on this responsibility, I would like to reach out in a special way to the families who have been affected by events at Burr Oak Cemetery. I wish to assure them that I will work diligently to see to the respectful internment of their loved ones' remains."
"I will be working with the court, the relevant public agencies and law enforcement to see to the continuing security of the cemetery," Szabelski continued. "I pledge you my best efforts and would appreciate the cooperation of all who have been touched by this tragedy."
State officials have sued the corporate owner of Burr Oak Cemetery, accusing it of consumer fraud and violations of multiple laws related to the funeral and burial industry.
Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes and Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed the complaint in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday against Perpetua Holdings of Illinois, the company that has owned the cemetery since 2001.
The complaint charges Perpetua with violating the Illinois Cemetery Care Act, the Pre-Need Cemetery Sales Act and the Illinois Funeral or Burial Funds Act over allegations that cemetery employees desecrated graves, buried new remains on top of existing human remains and improperly disposed of human remains.
The filing also states that burial records at the cemetery are "wholly incomplete and inaccurate" in violation of the three acts.
A fourth count charges the owners with consumer fraud for failing to monitor and maintain Burr Oak operations and misdirecting funds intended for the care of cemetery plots.
The complaint seeks to stop Perpetua Holdings from accepting any further money for operation of the cemetery and asked the court to appoint a receiver to take control of the cemetery.
The company may also be liable for $50,000 per violation of consumer fraud laws, the lawsuit said.
The appointment of Szabelski "is a very significant step towards beginning the healing process for the thousands of families with loved ones at Burr Oak," according to a statement from the attorney general's office. "Mr. Szabelski will have broad authority to take possession and control of operations at the cemetery, to work cooperatively with the Comptroller's office and all law enforcement agencies."
On Monday, the state comptroller's office froze almost $2 million in trust funds controlled by Perpetua Holdings for the operation of Burr Oak and another cemetery, Cedar Park Cemetery in Calumet Park.
The Cook County sheriff's office has set up an e-mail address for families who are concerned about loved ones who are buried at the cemetery: email@example.com. Family members also may call a sheriff's hotline on Burr Oak, 800-942-1950 or, if calling from a local phone, (708) 865-6070.
The Sheriff's office also is providing updates on its Web site, www.cookcountysheriff.org.
(The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story)
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