Friday, October 1, 1999

Mistakes at
Maui cemetery
draw fire

The state is investigating
complaints about sales and
poor record-keeping

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent


WAILUKU -- George Vasconcellos wondered if he was losing his memory when a Maui Memorial Park saleswoman told him last August that his burial plan did not include digging and covering his grave.

"She insisted she had checked my records," said Vasconcellos, 70.

Now some Maui residents are wondering about the record-keeping and sales practices at Maui Memorial Park.

The state Regulated Industries Complaints Office is investigating three complaints against the Wailuku cemetery.

Complaints and Enforcement Officer JoAnn Uchida said the office is unable to release details until it reviews what kind of disciplinary action it might take, if any.

Several residents had agreed to pay money for additional services. Vasconcellos, for instance, said he agreed to pay $5,600, made in monthly installments of $57.

Several months later, they found their contracts, which showed they already had paid for the services.

Vasconcellos said he received a refund but is still upset at having to prove he bought the services.

"I was mad," Vasconcellos said.

Maui resident Harold Shimoda said he agreed to pay $1,500. He said a saleswoman told him that urns and urn vaults were not provided under his 1984 contract. But when he and his son-in-law checked the contract this year, they found that the items were listed in the agreement.

Shimoda said he was angry at the inaccurate representation made by the salesperson.

"These guys, they not doing their job," he said.

Park spokeswoman Jennifer F. Mercer said the company was purchased in August 1998 by Loewen Group International Inc., and clients were asked to come to the office to make sure their funeral plan met their needs.

Mercer said a turnover in staff and a lack of training contributed to employees not reading the contracts properly.

If consumers feel they might have been sold a service they paid for in a previous contract, they are welcome to review their files, she said.

Vasconcellos remembers six to eight elderly people like him in the memorial park's waiting room last year, called by phone to review their funeral plans, with one woman openly complaining that she thought she had paid for all the services years ago.

He recalled telling the saleswoman he thought he had taken care of the details and paid for everything.

"She said, 'No, you paid for the mortuary services and casket,'" Vasconcellos said.

Through the help of his son-in-law, attorney David Sereno, he was able to obtain a refund of about $800 that he had paid, he said.

Sereno said he and his wife visited the park office in Wailuku and showed them the contract.

He said an office employee went to a computer and was able to call up the records displaying details in Vasconcellos' 1977 contract.

Sereno said the contract information was available but apparently was not used or was misused.

"This kind of behavior is unconscionable," the attorney said.

Sereno said he asked memorial park officials to publish advertisements informing clients that they should review their funeral plans in light of the Vasconcellos' incident.

Sereno said he hasn't received a response to his request.

Maui resident Blake Shiigi said a saleswoman told his mother-in-law the company was unable to find her funeral plan.

The family provided a copy of the contract, and Shiigi's mother-in-law, too, was told that her plan did not include certain expenses such as a funeral urn.

State consumer licensing official Jan Yamane said under state law, memorial parks are to keep a record of all contracts and that having no records is a violation.

Yamane said complaints may be filed against a company even if it has refunded money.

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