Burr Oak Scandal Settlements Start at $50

Payments of $50 to $100 being issued

By Alexandria Fisher and Natalie Martinez
|  Thursday, Jun 21, 2012  |  Updated 1:23 AM CDT
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Dart Reacts to Burr Oak Sentencing

As settlements arrive from Burr Oak scandal, many families say they are left with open wounds and little to show for them.

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Burr Oak Plan Offers $100 Per Victim

Victims need to prove direct relationship to someone buried at historic cemetery and relinquish rights to sue later.

Dart Reacts to Burr Oak Sentencing

Sheriff Tom Dart reacts to the 12-year sentence for Carolyn Towns, the mastermind behind an off-the-books burial scheme at Burr Oak Cemetery.
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Families who lost their loved ones in the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal are beginning to receive their payback.

The $50 to $100 payments, many said, are insulting.

"I just was hurt, disappointed, disgusted," said Lorene Franklin, who has two sisters and a niece buried at the historic Alsip resting place. "It felt cheap, because ... $100? $100?"

Her daughter said the payment felt like hush money.

"There's a rip in my heart," said Valerie Campbell, who said she still isn't sure where her two boys, grandfather, aunts and uncle are buried after cemetery workers resold dug-up plots in a money-making scheme.

"[The lawyers] had us sign stuff real fast, and the next thing I know, they send me $100. What am I gonna do with $100?"

Attorney Tom Leahy said he took dozens of similar cases pro bono and said he fears that with the cost of burials increasing, more scandals will be unearthed.

"I hope that once cemetery owners recognize their increased exposure because of the new laws, they'll go ahead and increase their insurance coverage so maybe in the future when this happens again there will be more money to compensate the victims," said Leahy.

In April 2009, officers with the Cook County Sheriff's Police investigated reports of four Burr Oak Cemetery staffers running an off-the-books operation that involved digging up bodies, reburying them in a common area of the cemetery and pocketing the money paid to them for new arrivals.

The ringleader of the scandal, Carolyn Towns, was sentenced to 12 years in prison last July and the other three participants are still in court.

 
In bankruptcy court two years later, more than 5,000 families signed off on a compensation plan that would give them a one-time-only $100 payment. It was significantly less than many were expecting, but with no records left as proof, most were left with few options.
 
"The plan is the best overall resolution of this situation, for the greatest number of people," said an attorney last year who represented Burr Oak’s owners. "I know there’s people who imagined that they might get big returns. I know there’s plenty of lawyers who thought they would get lots of money prosecuting lawsuits."

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