Funeral Industry News

Forest Hill Cemetery Trial Ends in Mistrial, 50 Hours of Deliberation

May 26, 2010

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Forest Hill Cemetery Trial Ends in Mistrial, 50 Hours of Deliberation

imageA mistrial was declared Monday in the embezzlement case against Mark Singer after nine days of jury deliberations failed to produce a verdict.

At about midday, jurors reported that they were unable to agree on the counts against Singer, and Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs Jr. declared a mistrial, prosecutor Bill Bright said.

Bright said prosecutors want to put the case, involving the Forest Hill funeral businesses, before another jury. June 30 has been set for lawyers to report back to the court.

Singer is one of three men accused in Tennessee of stealing millions of dollars from trust funds used to back prepaid funerals and cemetery maintenance at the Forest Hill funeral businesses. He was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft of property over $60,000, one count of theft of property over $60,000 and five counts of money laundering.

Jurors received the case on May 12 and had deliberated more than 50 hours over nine days.

During a 23-day trial, they heard complex testimony about finances as well as emotional accounts from victims in the case.

More than 13,000 people saw most of the value of their prepaid funeral policies temporarily wiped out after Forest Hill Funeral Home owner Clayton Smart declared in 2006 that the businesses would not honor the contracts in full.

The state later seized the businesses and began honoring the policies again.

Prosecutors accused Singer, a former Smith Barney investment adviser from Pennsylvania, of conspiring with Smart and others to steal the money.

The prosecutors said they found $2.8 million from Forest Hill trust funds in Singer’s personal accounts.

Singer’s team of defense attorneys, led by Robert F. Katzberg of New York, attacked the credibility of prosecution witnesses. They also said Smart manipulated Singer into participating.

Katzberg and other lawyers were flying home Monday afternoon and unavailable for comment, said Kemper Durand, a Memphis attorney who also worked on the case.

In addition to the potential retrial in Tennessee, Singer faces criminal charges in Indiana.

And on March 9, Shelby County Chancellor Arnold Goldin ruled in a civil case that Singer shared liability for the losses at Forest Hill.