TAMPA - Virginia Stoner says it's not the first time. Kathy Powell shares Virginia's pain.
The families trusted Royal Palm Cemetery South to respect the remains of their parents and their babies.
Powell discovered the disappearance of her mom and dad's grave markers in January, her first visit in five years. What happened after she and her daughter complained to the Royal Palm office disturbed them even more.
The women say they watched, counted and took photos as maintenance men dug up more than 15 markers that had sunk beneath the dirt. Kathy says workers found her parents' markers under 10 inches of soil.
We listened as Virginia called Royal Palm South's office to ask about her mother's marker. Their explanation, as Virginia describes it, was that markers are sometimes moved to keep them from being broken during a new burial, and sometimes the workers make a mistake and put it back in the wrong place.
Cemetery owner Cliff Work did not return multiple calls I made to his office, but I caught up with him at a gas station near his New Tampa home.
But the I-team discovered sunken markers are one of dozens of violations at Royal Palm South cited by Florida regulators. We combed thru state records and found a pattern of violations from 2005 to 2011.
They include remains buried in the wrong graves, missing burial records and failure to care for and maintain cemetery lots.
In 2011, the state fined owner Cliff Work $35,000 and ordered that he correct violations at the cemetery, and three others he owns.
Keenan Knopke sits on the board of directors for the Florida Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. He says its possible hundreds of markers have sunk into the ground at Royal Palm South due to lack of maintenance.
Cliff Work says he knew nothing about the stones his workers unearthed during Kathy Powell's visit.
Powell and others question whether any of the violations have been corrected. The Division of Funeral Homes and Cemeteries says it can't comment on an open case.
Cliff Work's attorney responded to our questions in an email, which states, “Mr. Work is trying diligently to resolve all items identified in the consent order. Suffering a shooting has set him back, but he is again hard at work at Royal Palm South and the other cemeteries owned by Work & Son, Inc.”
His attorney also provided us with a list of corrections it submitted to the state last May. In it, Royal Palm claims to have corrected violations involving cemetery maintenance and burial records. They also say they’ve made repairs to hundreds of markers.
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