Clayton Smart case to go to trial Monday

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Former Forest Hills Funeral Home owner Clayton Smart, who prosecutors said looted the prepaid federal trust funds of nearly 13,000 people, goes to trial Monday morning in Shelby County Criminal Court.

Smart's saga has unbelievable twists and turns, but the outcome is unknown.  Action News 5 has confirmed attorneys are working on a plea deal.

The man who bought three Forest Hills Funeral Homes two years earlier told 13,000 Shelby County families who had already paid for burials that he'd have to charge them an extra $4,000 to $6,000.

The walls crumbled for Clayton Smart at a news conference July 6th, 2006.  Ten months later, with $22 million missing from the funeral home's coffers, Tennessee agents charged Smart, his financial adviser Mark Singer and business partner Stephen Smith with money laundering, theft and conspiracy.

By then, grand juries in Indiana and Michigan had indicted Smart on embezzling cemetery trusts in those states.  

Smart was also accused of exploiting civil rights icon Rosa Parks, buried in his Michigan cemetery.  He was hiking up burial plot prices near her crypt.

Perla Pirtle, one of Smart's victims, was devastated.

"Even though I don't have any tears, I could still cry," Pirtle said.

With some Shelby County families forced to pay extra to bury loved ones, Tennessee seized Smart's assets and tracked down money to honor the remaining pre-paid funerals.

In August of 2007, prosecutors said Smart, who claimed he had no money, was moving funds around from a jail phone.

"To me, that was arrogance," sand Don Foshee, another of Smart's victims, " or maybe, lack of a better word, stupidity."

In November of 2007, Smart's mistress told a judge that Smart could stay in her Memphis apartment if the judge allowed bail.  However, Smart has been unable to afford the $500,000 bond.

Singer and Smith have been out on bond while Smart awaited his fate in Shelby County Jail for three years.

All three pleaded not guilty.

Details of the possible plea deal have not been released.  If the case goes to trial, it could last a month or two with so many victims and financial transactions.

Two more of Smart's business partners have already been convicted of embezzlement in two other states.  Carter Green was charged in Michigan and Robert Nelms was convicted in Indiana.  They are helping prosecutors in Memphis.

Singer is charged in Tennessee and Indiana.  Smart is charged in Tennessee, Michigan and Indiana.  Smith, who owned a small percentage of Forest Hills, is only charged in Tennessee.

Smart and Singer will face the Michigan and Indiana charges once the Tennessee case is over.

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