A local funeral home owner and an officer from the previous ownership of Southern Memorial Gardens in Dunkirk spoke at a citizens meeting March 6, expressing their hope of taking over operations of the cemetery. The company that had owned the cemetery since 2006, Badtec Inc., is currently the subject of a bankruptcy case in federal court.

Terry Wood and Doug Lodge discussed their intent at the nearly three hour session at Grace Brethren Church in Owings. The meeting was attended by nearly 200 people. Wood and Lodge have sent a letter of intent to the bankruptcy trustee to resume operations of the cemetery. Wood is the owner of the Raymond Funeral Home in Dunkirk and Lodge was the chief financial officer for Badtec.

During his lengthy explanation of how the cemetery fell into bankruptcy, Lodge chronicled the alleged fraudulent activities of Southern Memorial Gardens’ previous owner, The Lee Group, and its president Larry Deffenbaugh. He explained how the previous operator’s actions blended with a weak economy to render the facility insolvent. Lodge also criticized the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight (OCO) for its lack of diligence of looking into complaints against the way the Lee Group was managing the facility. He had praise for the Calvert County State’s Attorney’s Office for its initial investigation of Deffenbaugh and his daughter, Stacey Campbell. The investigation was launched after Bill and Danny Martin of Badtec purchased the assets of Southern Memorial Gardens from Deffenbaugh. “They [Martins] realized something wasn’t right,” said Lodge. The State’s Attorney’s Office probe led to an investigation by the Maryland State Police.

Deffenbaugh is currently behind bars in a federal prison. The charges stem from a hoax he allegedly perpetrated on the high seas, faking his own death to avoid appearing for a court hearing. Deffenbaugh had pled guilty to a single count of theft over $500 and was sentenced to 15 years in jail. As part of a plea agreement, a judge suspended all but five years of the sentence and ordered Deffenbaugh to serve five years of supervised probation. He [Deffenbaugh] also provided a $1 million promissory note to establish a trust fund to pay back the over 600 clients who did not receive services paid for from the Lee Group.

The OCO was created in 1997 and is under the umbrella of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR). Its board members are appointed by the DLLR secretary.

A call and an e-mail to OCO Executive Director Marilyn Harris-Davis had not been returned as this story was being filed. The OCO board meets once every two months. According to minutes available on-line, the panel discussed the Southern Memorial Gardens situation during their September meeting. Ongoing maintenance of the shuttered facility was one item discussed.