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A former salesman for Edgewood Memorial Park has promised to repay the North Little Rock cemetery up to $10,163 in restitution for selling fraudulent burial-service contracts to clients.

The ultimate amount that Ashley Renee Pierce of Jacksonville is required to repay the 95-year-old Levy cemetery could be reduced, depending on the outcome of a related lawsuit in North Little Rock District Court.

Court records show that Pierce, 33, was recently convicted of second-degree forgery before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen after she entered a no-contest plea to the charge as part of an arrangement with prosecutors to get Edgewood's money back. The charge is a Class C felony that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

As part of the arrangement, prosecutors dropped two other forgery counts and a theft charge.

Pierce, who has no previous criminal history, will also have to spend two months in jail. She was sentenced to four years on probation, which is contingent on her making restitution of at least $211 per month, court records show.

Records show that the cemetery manager, Donya Sanders, went to North Little Rock police in June 2017 to report that she'd discovered that Pierce had sold a burial contract worth $10,035 to a woman in February 2016 for $3,400 and never submitted the contract to the cemetery or deposited the money.

The scheme came to light after the woman died and her family produced an Edgewood contract for burial at the cemetery at 4200 Division St., and Sanders could not find the corresponding paperwork at the office, according to reports.

Edgewood is a 60-acre perpetual care cemetery established in 1923, which is owned by Serenity Cemeteries II LLC of Phoenix, Ariz.

The company also owns Memorial Park cemetery in Pine Bluff and two cemeteries in El Dorado (Arlington Memorial Park and Rest Haven Memorial Gardens), according to the state Department of Insurance, which regulates perpetual care cemeteries.

The parent company also owns Rest Haven Memorial Park in Russellville, Woodlawn Memorial Park in Fort Smith and East Memorial Gardens in Texarkana.

Serenity Cemeteries purchased Edgewood in August 2008 after its previous owner, Forest Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Park of Shelby County, Tenn., went into court-ordered receivership in that state in April 2007.

Edgewood was built by the North Little Rock Cemetery Association. When construction was announced in the Sept. 12, 1923, edition of the Arkansas Gazette, the operators described it as a "park specially designed as a place in which to fittingly memorize our dead." It was described as a memorial park "to distinguish it from the old-time graveyard," the advertisement stated.

Shreveport-based landscape architect and engineer H.J. Ricker, who designed Edgewood, specialized in park-style cemeteries.

"This insures in the development of the grounds the utmost in serviceable appointment and artistic beautification on a comprehensive landscape plan," the ad stated. "Wide roadways will wind through the grounds on lines suggested by the contour of the land. The various sections for burying purposes will be terraced into these roadways and will be maintained as a beautiful lawn."

The association offered a $25 prize -- the equivalent of about $365 today -- to whoever submitted the best name as decided by a panel of three North Little Rock women chosen to judge the contest, Mrs. Lillian Pauletet, 218 Maple St.; Mrs. Phil Trumpler, 115 W. Fourth St.; and Mrs. J.M. Branch of 1019 E. Washington Ave.

On Sept. 23, 1923, the newspaper reported that "Edgewood," as suggested by Mrs. C.E. Mitchell of 127 N. Victory St., would be the park's name.

She told the Gazette that she visited the property before coming up with her suggestion. She said it was Edgewood because the property is "just at the edge of town."

There were 197 submissions and two other women, Mrs. S.E. Buckalew of 1020 N. Harrison St. in Little Rock, and Mrs. George Ashe, 721 Second St., North Little Rock, also recommended Edgewood.

But Mitchell's was the first submitted, arriving on Sept. 14, 1923, the second day of the contest. The other two reached the association on Sept. 21, 1923, the day before the contest ended.

Metro on 07/09/2018

Print Headline: Woman pledges to repay cemetery; Burial contracts sold fraudulently

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