Hawkins County Memorial Gardens, located at 536 Carters Valley Loop, Rogersville, will be auctioned off by the Knoxville-based Powell Auction and Realty on Thursday at noon at the location, although bids can also be made online. The cemetery is located just off Highway 11-W near the Surgoinsville city limits.
Auction proceeds will go toward the enormous restitution bill owed by former cemetery owner and operator Vickie Ringley.
When will the victims receive restitution?
Although Ringley pleaded guilty to multiple charges in February 2017, the exact amount of restitution hasn't been determined, and no disbursement order has been filed.
Attorney General Dan Armstrong told the Times News on Tuesday there is a hearing in Criminal Court on June 22 in which Ringley is seeking to buy back some of her personal property.
Armstrong said a total restitution amount may be determined by the time of that hearing. He said the amount is "well into six figures."
Ringley has been making restitution payments of $500 per month since she was released from jail on probation last year. As of yet, none of the proceeds has been disbursed to her victims.
The cemetery is still half empty
The cemetery is 9.6 acres and has a land value of $104,300. Of the 7,546 grave sites on the premises, 3,808 sites are vacant and available for immediate use with room for an additional 368 graves.
There's also an unfinished mausoleum that should accommodate 36 crypts once construction is completed.
There is no minimum bid, and all bids are subject to the approval of the court and the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. If potential buyers wish to operate the cemetery, they will be required to become registered.
What happens to the auction proceeds?
TDCI Communications Director Kevin Walters said a report must be made to the court regarding what occurs during the auction before the proceeds can be disbursed to victims.
Any disposition of the funds that are received through the auction will be subject to the court’s approval and, as such, it is not possible to say what that will be at this time, Walters noted.
The history behind the criminal case
On Feb. 17, 2017, Ringley accepted a plea agreement in which she was sentenced to 10 years in exchange for pleading guilty to one count of theft over $60,000, one count of money laundering, one count of forgery and one count of felony violation of cemetery regulations.
At the time, she had already been in jail for two years, and she was released at the end of February on probation on the condition she make a $500 per month restitution payment.
She was originally indicted on two counts of theft over $60,000, two counts of money laundering, seven counts of failure to follow state cemetery regulations and one count of forgery.
The investigation into Ringley’s illegal activities at the cemetery began in August 2013 after the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office received multiple complaints that cemetery clients hadn’t received goods and services she had been paid to provide.
In January 2014, Ringley was interviewed by investigators, at which time she admitted that she didn’t have a trust account for the cemetery as required by law and that she was using money paid by cemetery clients to pay her personal expenses, including her mortgage and utilities.
She also admitted she was using money from new clients to attempt to provide services to old clients in what can best be described as a pyramid scheme.
For several weeks, investigators met with hundreds of potential victims and collected information regarding their contractual agreements with Hawkins County Memorial Gardens and Ringley.
The complaints collected from victims were various but consistently included failure to place headstones and markers as contracted to do; failure to provide deeds after the purchase of cemetery plots; forged signatures and notarizations on documents; plots that had been sold multiple times to different people, such that numerous people had proof of ownership of the same burial plot.
Her cemetery license was suspended by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance on Feb. 10, 2014.
The cemetery was placed in receivership by the state in December 2014.
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