Families angered over plea deal with cemetery owner

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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Johnson County - A Greenwood businessman accused of stealing $24 million in cemetery trust funds has struck a deal - one that's bringing some family members to tears. It allows Robert Nelms to pay back the money back and avoid prison.

Robert Nelms once blew the whistle on New York funeral directors stealing body parts from the dead. Now he's prepared to plead guilty to raiding $24 million from cemetery trust funds used to maintain burial grounds across Indiana.

In exchange for staying out of prison, Nelms is facing eight years in a Community Corrections work release program, two years probation, and orders to pay the money back.

"We obtained the maximum sentence, even if we had gone to trial," Marion County Chief Deputy Prosecutor David Wyser said. "This is going to replenish that account to make sure that all of the plots and cemetery sites are taken care of," he added.

News of the plea deal isn't resting well with the families Nelms is accused of defrauding.

The thought of it brought cemetery visitor Mary to tears. She wanted to maintain some privacy by not revealing her last name.

"Not spending one day in jail. I don't understand that. Where's justice?," she questioned as she wept inside her car.

Brothers John and Keith spent the afternoon clearing weeds from their parents' graves. John, who didn't want to give his last name, said Nelms should have gotten some time behind bars.

"Give him time as much as he can give him. You know, he stole from people who had good faith in putting their money in here. And he needs to go to jail," he said.

Wyser says he understands the families wanting prison as punishment. He says if Nelms defaults on paying back the accounts, he will go to prison.

"I don't think he will," Mary said. She fears the families will be left with nothing.

"Crooks are crooks. I figure he's going to get out of it, if he can," said an equally skeptical John.

But according to Wyser, Nelms is already getting help with $23 million. "There is a lending institution that is going to put forth the money and loan the money," Wyser said.

It's unclear where the rest will come from. The last known home for Nelms and his estranged wife Debora Johnson is up for sale. The $850,000 10-acre property in Greenwood was foreclosed on. The asking price now is $499,000.

A judge will rule on the plea deal Monday, August 3rd.

If accepted, Nelms could be ordered to live in a Marion County Community Corrections facility or simply wear a monitoring device.

Nelms would be allowed to return to his business where his earnings will go toward paying off his $23 million loan.

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