SARASOTA, Fla. -- It's a story we first revealed Monday: Army specialist Christopher North lost his life while in Iraq after being hit by a roadside bomb in 2007. He was laid to rest at Sarasota Memorial Park cemetery, but his grave was constantly being vandalized. The situation prompted his mother to try to move him to the Sarasota National Cemetery, but the fee Sarasota Memorial Park Cemetery was charging for the process was well above industry norm.
After three days of calling and with no response, ABC 7 Sarasota decided to take another trip out to the Sarasota Memorial Park Cemetery, and this time, getting some answers.
"I swore an oath to all the men who served in my command to take care of them from boot camp to death," says Col. John W. Saputo, talking about his commitment to military personnel. Col Saputo agreed to pay the fee that Sarasota Memorial Park Cemetery is charging to relocate North to the VA National Cemetery in Sarasota.
Despite several calls to Sarasota Memorial Park we were unable to get anyone on the phone to convey the good news. So we started looking into the management of the cemetery.
It turns out that the owner is a man named Cliff Work -- the same Cliff Work who in 2013 was charged by the Department of Financial Services with multiple violations in connection with three of his cemeteries.
The state accused Work of failing to hold up his end of a 2011 settlement, in which he had agreed to pay fines and correct problems that included maintenance violations and missing burial records. Work disputes the charges and has continued to battle the allegations in court.
Since our story aired we received multiple emails from others with family members at the location. One such letter read, “Work is taking advantage of people who are grieving and vulnerable to his exploits.”
That prompted us to pay another visit to Sarasota Memorial Park, but this time the site manager was not only available but willing to speak to us. We asked her about the Christopher North situation, and the allegation that Memorial Park was charging an exorbitant rate for the disinterment.
"Aww, I really don’t know about any other cemeteries,” said Teresa (last name withheld), manager of the cemetery. “This is privately owned and I just do my job."
The manager did say that Memorial Park is now willing to offer a $500 discount to the fee for relocating North. The manager also denied allegations that the cemetery itself is responsible for items that have gone missing from North’s grave.
Our conversation ended on a high note, with Teresa agreeing to gather the necessary paperwork and get it to Col. Saputo on Thursday.
With any luck, North will be moved to his true final resting place in the coming weeks. ABC 7 Sarasota will have further updates on this story as that process gets underway.