On Tuesday, Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak entered an order of summary suspension against Vickie L. Ringley, 52, 536 Carters Valley Loop, Rogersville — owner and operator of Hawkins County Memorial Gardens.
The order prohibits Ringley from “any further operation of the cemetery pending the outcome of formal proceedings.”
The order also provides that “nothing in this order prohibits any customer with a property right at this cemetery from contracting with another party to perform the services prohibited by this order upon the Respondent.”
The order cites numerous grounds for this emergency suspension, including Ringley’s failure to maintain a required trust account for consumers’ funds, and alleged conversion of those funds for her own personal use.
TDCI public information officer Kate Abernathy said the department will be filing formal charges with the Secretary of State.
“We are still reviewing the financials and don’t have any information to share on how much is missing, but we do know that money was not placed in the appropriate accounts nor was money spent on the items/services that it was intended,” Abernathy told the Times-News. “The merchandise and services accounts are for tombstones, markers, and open and closing costs.”
Last year more than 20 people filed complaints against Ringley with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office claiming they paid her for gravestones to be placed on graves or other services that hadn’t been performed.
Although Ringley was charged with felony forgery last month related to cemetery business, the HCSO confirmed Friday that the lion’s share of the criminal investigation into Ringley’s cemetery business is ongoing.
The order filed by McPeak states, “The Respondent (Ringley) has admitted to conversion to customers’ funds to her own personal use.”
The order further states, “The public health, safety and welfare imperatively require emergency action, or else (Ringley) will likely convert and squander further funds paid by customers.”
Case in point: On Jan. 16 a Rogersville woman reported to the HCSO that a check she had written to the cemetery to make a payment on her and her husband’s burial plots was allegedly altered by Ringley.
She stated she wrote a check in the amount of $66.25 to Hawkins County Memorial Gardens.
She was later notified by an employee of Appalachian Credit Union of Rogersville that Ringley had come to the credit union drive-through on Jan. 16 with the check, but the cemetery name had allegedly been covered with white-out and Ringley’s name written in.
The back of the check was also allegedly endorsed by Ringley. That incident resulted in the forgery charge.
Ringley is free on $2,000 bond and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Hawkins County Sessions Court on March 19.
Rogersville Police Department Detective Joey Maddox told the Times-News he had received a similar check-altering complaint against Ringley. Maddox said he had forwarded that check to the attorney general’s office as well.
There are currently three pending lawsuits filed against Ringley pertaining to her business dealings at the cemetery.
A March 11 trial is set in Hawkins County Sessions Court for a lawsuit filed against Ringley by Matthews International Corp/Bronze of Knoxville seeking $8,054 “for goods, services, monies advanced or loaned to the defendant which has not been received.”
A March 11 trial is set in Hawkins County Sessions Court for a lawsuit filed against Ringley by Amanda Sykes-Lunsford and Tammy Linkous of Mount Carmel who are seeking an unspecified compensation for “suffering and anguish.” They allege that on Nov. 2, 2004, Ringley sold Sykes- Lunsford two plots beside her grandparents, but it was discovered in January that Ringley had also sold the same plots to her cousin, Linkous, in 1998, and that they owned the same plots.
A March 6 trial is set in Hawkins County Sessions Court for a lawsuit filed against Ringley by Roger and Linda Williams of Morristown seeking $7,000 “for theft of funds belonging to plaintiffs for purchase of a headstone in defendant’s cemetery, and opening and closing of a cemetery plot.”
There are also three Hawkins County Sessions Court lawsuit judgments against Ringley pertaining to cemetery business, including a default judgment issued by Judge J. Todd Ross on Oct. 29 for $6,000 plus interest to Frank and Connie Coleman, of Mooresburg, who paid for two grave sites and didn’t receive a deed.
On Sept. 24, Ringley agreed to a $2,345 settlement with Mike Williams of Rogersville for failure to install a marker.
Also on Sept. 24, Ringley agreed to an $800 settlement with Noemi Lawson of Rogersville for failure to provide and install a gravestone within a reasonable time.
Click here to find the entire Order of Summary Suspension