Private Equity Firms Tied To Chicago Cemetery Scandal

In the panoply of scumbaggery, there’s a special place reserved for four Chicago-area cemetery workers indicted earlier this month for digging up bodies in order to resell their grave-plots.

The case has captivated and horrified the Midwest, and received national attention when it was believed that the desecrated corpses may have included that of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till (his grave was not actually disturbed, but his original casket was found surrounded by garbage in a cemetery storage room).

What has been mostly overlooked, however, is that the cemetery is managed by a company whose investors include at least two private equity firms: Pacesetter Capital Group (Richardson, Texas) and Milestone Growth Fund (Minneapolis).

Both firms focus on small-cap, minority-owned businesses, and have received funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration. (Our database also includes investments from Opportunity Capital Partners and Banc of America Capital Investors, but it’s unclear if either are still shareholders.)

Pacesetter and Milestone’s joint portfolio company is Perpetua Holdings, a Tuscan, Ariz.-based outfit whose website was recently disabled. According to Milestone’s website, however, Perpetua is a “national funeral home and cemetery acquisition/development company.”

Perpetua’s CEO is Melvin Bryant, a former Charter Communications executive who currently serves as an operating partner with Pacesetter Capital. Directors include Felix Villaba, vice president and CFO of Pacesetter Capital, and Judy Romlin, an executive vice president with Milestone Growth Fund.

Bryant has been named as a defendant in at least two civil lawsuits, including one in which Pacesetter is also named. Perpetua and its affiliates also are named in both suits, but Milestone is completely absent. I spoke briefly with a couple of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who said that they had not yet heard of Milestone (cases are still in their early, discovery phases). Don’t be stunned to see an ammended defendant’s roster, although Pacesetter seems to be the shareholder with more managerial pull.

I’ve put in calls to both Pacesetter Capital and Milestone Growth, but have not yet heard back. I’ll update this post if/when I do. In the meantime, here is a copy of one of the lawsuits:

Update: Pacesetter has issued the following statement:

“Pacesetter Capital Group fosters economic development by providing long-term growth capital to small, mostly minority-owned businesses across the country. Perpetua Holdings is one of nearly 40 companies that Pacesetter invests in. Pacesetter had no knowledge of the alleged criminal acts committed at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Ill., and intends to vigorously defend itself in the civil litigation. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families affected by this matter.”

Cemetery Complaint