The Federal Emergency Management Agency has hired Kenyon International
to set up a mobile morgue for handling bodies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
following Hurricane Katrina, RAW STORY has
Kenyon is a subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI),
a scandal-ridden Texas-based company operated by a friend of the Bush family.
Recently, SCI subsidiaries have been implicated in illegally discarding and
Louisiana governor Katherine Blanco subsequently inked a contract with the
firm after talks between FEMA and the firm broke down. Kenyon's original
deal was secured by the Department
of Homeland Security.
In other words, FEMA and then Blanco outsourced the body count from
Hurricane Katrina -- which many believe the worst natural disaster in U.S. history
-- to a firm whose parent company is known for its "experience" at
hiding and dumping bodies.
The Menorah Gardens cemetery chain, owned by SCI, desecrated vaults,
removed hundreds of bodies from two cemeteries in Florida and dumped the gruesome
remains in woods frequented by wild hogs, investigators discovered
in 2001. In one
case, a backhoe was used to crack open a vault, remove corpses and
make room for more dead bodies.
SCI paid $100
million to settle a lawsuit filed by outraged family members of
A secretary at the lawfirm that sued SCI over the Florida cemetery
scandals gasped when informed that FEMA had outsourced handling of Katrina victims'
bodies to an SCI subsidiary.
"Oh, good lord!" she said.
Peter Hartmann, general manager of the Menorah Gardens Cemetery chain,
was later found
dead in his car from carbon monoxide poisoning
outside his parents' home in an apparent suicide.
RAW STORY calls to FEMA were not returned.
Waltrip, chairman of SCI, is a longtime friend of Bush's father, former
President George Herbert Walker Bush. The firm's political action committee
to George W. Bush's 1994 gubernatorial campaign.
The company also contributed more than $100,000
for construction of the George H.W. Bush presidential library.
"It is appalling that the Bush administration –- which has already
badly bungled its response to hurricane Katrina –- would hire a company
with a record of gross mismanagement of mortuary services," said Melanie
Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington
D.C.-based watchdog group. "I can only imagine that this decision was made
because of President Bush's long-time friendship with the head of SCI, Robert
SCI also owned fifteen funeral homes named as defendants in a
on behalf of family members alleging "macabre mishandling, abuse and desecration
of bodies" by Tri-State Crematory in Georgia. The lawsuit accused SCI-owned
funeral homes of sending bodies to the unlicensed, unregulated crematorium,
where never-incinerated corpses were found piled outdoors and stuffed in sheds
Some vaults designed to hold one body each had 67 sets of human remains
stuffed inside, investigators discovered.
SCI was among the companies ordered to pay settlement fees to family members,
a legal source has confirmed to RAW STORY.
Kenyon bills itself as the world's leading disaster management company. It
provided morgue support services following the 9/11 plane crash in Pennsylvania
and the Asian tsunami.
As North America's largest funeral and cemetery company, SCI operates
1,500 mortuaries and cemeteries nationwide.
The company's website claims the firm is dedicated to "compassionately
supporting families at difficult times, celebrating the significance of lives
that have been lived, and preserving memories that transcend generations, with
dignity and honor."
SCI was also involved in an earlier scandal in Texas. Eliza May, former
Texas Funeral Service Commission Director, filed a lawsuit accusing George W.
Bush, then Governor, of obstructing an investigation into SCI license violations.
May was fired following a dispute with Waltrip.
Waltrip and an SCI lobbyist met with Governor Bush's chief of staff,
Joe Allbaugh (Allbaugh was later appointed head of FEMA after Bush became President,
but left to become a lobbyist representing Halliburton, among other corporate
According to Newsweek, Bush stopped by and said to Waltrip,
"Hey, Bobby, are those people still messing with you?"
May, a Democrat, sought to force Bush to testify in the case, but in August
1999, a Texas judge tossed out a subpoena issued by May's lawyers for Bush to
give a deposition. Bush, who was not a defendant, called May's claims "frivolous"
and denied knowing the circumstances of her ouster.
In 1999, when Bush was gearing up to run for the presidency, Texas Governor
Rick Perry approved a settlement
for May. SCI paid $55,000; the state of Texas shelled out the balance without
admitting wrongdoing in May's termination.
Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.),
expressed concern over FEMA's choice of an SCI subsidiary and questioned whether
the selection was made through a no-bid process.
"The tragedy in the Gulf States must not be compounded by disrespecting
those who have died," Crider told RAW STORY.
"It's critical that government contracts be subjected to scrutiny to ensure
that there has been no fraud or abuse of taxpayer money or interest."
Democrats have called for formation of an anti-fraud commission to investigate
no-bid contracts awarded in relation to Hurricane Katrina, she added.
Why FEMA chose to outsource mortuary services to a paid contractor is also
mystery to Dan Buckner, co-owner of the Gowen-Smith Chapel in the Gulf area.
Buckner had planned to serve with the Disaster Mortuary Operational Responses
Team, which reportedly told Buckner's partner, Gary Hicks of Paducah, KY, to
expect up to 40,000 deaths from Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Upon learning of Kenyon’s contract, Buckner expressed puzzlement.
He told the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, "Volunteers would have gone at no
Clarification: After FEMA began working with Kenyon, they
were subsequently contracted by Louisiana Governor Blanco. It was Louisiana
that signed a formal contract.