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Who is Eliza May?
Is the woman at the center of the Texas funeral home scandal a wronged government watchdog or a Democrat with a political agenda?

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[08/20/99]

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The funeral scandal time line
A chronology of the battle between the Texas Funeral Service Commission and Service Corporation International.

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Compiled by Robert Bryce

August 1996: Austin, Texas, resident Eliza May is hired as executive director of the Texas Funeral Service Commission.

January 1998: The TFSC receives a complaint from a citizen regarding the use of unlicensed embalming facilities by Service Corporation International. The agency begins examining records and finds that provisional licensees were doing embalmings at an SCI funeral home in Dallas without proper licenses.

March 6, 1998: The TFSC denies a license to Dallas/Fort Worth Mortuary Service, a company that planned to set up a commercial embalming service in the embalming rooms of two SCI funeral homes: Lucas Funeral Home in Hurst and Sparkman-Crane Funeral Home in Dallas.




Also Today

Who is Eliza May?
Is the woman at the center of the Texas funeral home scandal a wronged government watchdog or a Democrat with a political agenda?

 

March 25, 1998: Tommy Metcalf, an SCI employee and member of the TFSC board, calls TFSC staffers to complain about the denial of the licenses. Metcalf also talks to May regarding the denials.

March 26, 1998: SCI attorney Johnnie B. Rogers calls May to complain about the denial of the licenses.

March 31, 1998: The TFSC issues subpoenas seeking 15 months' worth of documents related to improper embalmings.

April 7, 1998: SCI attorney Rogers notifies the TFSC that SCI will not comply with the subpoenas.

April 8, 1998: Joshua Kimball, a provisional licensee who was working on his embalming license at SCI's Sparkman-Crane Funeral Home in Dallas, calls May at the TFSC office. According to May, Kimball tells her, "I am going to kill all of you." May files a report with the Austin Police Department.

April 10, 1998: Armed with subpoenas, TFSC employees arrive unannounced at Sparkman-Crane Funeral Home in Dallas and Lucas Funeral Home in Hurst to inspect embalming records. SCI personnel at the facilities initially refuse, then decide to cooperate with the TFSC employees.

April 13, 1998: SCI CEO Robert Waltrip calls TFSC chairman Richard McNeil to complain about the investigation, the subpoenas and the surprise inspections. According to May's lawsuit, Waltrip threatens to "sue TFSC and threatened to have the TFSC abolished by the Texas Legislature."

April 15, 1998: Waltrip writes a letter denouncing the TFSC and what he calls the "storm trooper" tactics used by TFSC employees during inspections of Lucas and Sparkman-Crane. He says the TFSC should "consider disciplinary action, including termination" of the staffers involved. The same day, Waltrip and his attorney, Rogers, visit the TFSC offices in Austin and talk to May. After leaving the TFSC, Waltrip and Rogers go to the governor's office in the Capitol and meet with Joe Allbaugh, Gov. George W. Bush's chief of staff. According to May's lawsuit, she received a call from Allbaugh "approximately forty-five minutes after Waltrip and Rogers left" her office. Waltrip and Rogers both say afterward that they spoke to Bush while in Allbaugh's office about the investigation. Waltrip later changes his story.

April 16, 1998: State Rep. Kyle Janek, a Republican from Houston and an SCI stockholder, calls May to inquire about the TFSC investigation into SCI.

April 23, 1998: Janek writes a letter to TFSC chairman Richard McNeil, inquiring about the TFSC investigation.

May 11, 1998: State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who has received $5,000 in campaign contributions from SCI -- more than any other member of the Texas Senate -- calls May at the TFSC, and tells her he wants to meet with her to discuss the SCI investigation. According to May's lawsuit, Whitmire tells her that "SCI intended to sue TFSC." Whitmire demands to meet with May the following day.

May 12, 1998: May goes to Whitmire's office for a meeting. She later describes his tone during the encounter as "prosecutorial, brow-beating, harassing and pressuring." Her lawsuit also alleges that when she told Whitmire about SCI's alleged illegal activities, he indicated "that he was uninterested in any such violations and did not want to hear about them." Sen. Whitmire also allegedly said that he intended to have another meeting, the following week, this time with Waltrip present, to try to "put an end to the matter." The same day, Janek gets $1,000 in political contribution from SCI's political action committee.

May 18, 1998: At Whitmire's insistence, May attends a meeting in Allbaugh's office, where, May claims, Whitmire demands to know all details of the TFSC investigation even though Waltrip, the CEO of SCI, is sitting in the same room. May says the meeting was "clearly designed to intimidate me."

May 19, 1998: Janek gets an additional $1,855 from SCI's PAC.

June 15, 1998: Whitmire sends a list of 11 questions to Attorney General John Cornyn, a Republican, asking for an opinion on the TFSC's interpretation of the state's funeral regulations.

July 25, 1998: A man impersonating an employee of the TSFC tries to get a janitor to let him into the TFSC office. The janitor denies him entry when he cannot show identification.

Aug. 3, 1998: The TFSC's complaint review committee recommends that SCI be fined $445,000. The same day, a private investigator working for SCI begins calling May's friends looking for unflattering information on her.

Aug. 4, 1998: May writes Whitmire and Allbaugh telling them that SCI's investigator is calling her friends and that she is concerned for her personal safety.

Aug. 10, 1998: May meets with Allbaugh in his office. According to May's lawsuit, Allbaugh again questions her about the TFSC investigation and then tells her, "This isn't going anywhere."

Aug. 17, 1998: Whitmire calls May again. He says he wants the TFSC to agree to mediation to resolve the dispute with SCI.

Dec. 17-18, 1998: The TFSC and SCI meet to mediate the dispute. The matter is not resolved.

Jan. 14, 1999: McNeil calls May. According to May, he tells her that TFSC commissioner Tommy Metcalf, an SCI employee, wants May "put on administrative leave or otherwise disciplined."

Jan. 19, 1999: SCI attorneys meet with Clark Ervin, general counsel in the attorney general's office, to talk about their problems with the TFSC.

Jan. 25, 1999: The TFSC puts May on administrative leave.

Feb. 8, 1999: May is fired as executive director of the TFSC.

March 4, 1999: The attorney general's office issues a letter saying it will not issue an opinion on the TFSC dispute because "the controversy is set for mediation" and "it would not be appropriate" to get involved.

March 23, 1999: May files a whistle-blower lawsuit against the TFSC. SCI and Waltrip are also named as defendants.

April 8, 1999: Attorney General Cornyn sends memos to staffers saying he wants to be aware of all cases in which his office refuses to issue an opinion.

May 7, 1999: Officials from the attorney general's office, including Cornyn, meet with attorneys from SCI to discuss the TFSC case.

June 2, 1999: Cornyn issues an opinion that appears to favor SCI's position regarding the legality of embalming within existing funeral homes.

June 11, 1999: Waltrip's attorneys issue interrogatories in May's lawsuit, saying that on April 15, 1998, Waltrip talked to Bush about the SCI executive's letter complaining about the TFSC.

June 16, 1999: Waltrip's attorneys issue a "supplemental" interrogatory saying that Waltrip didn't talk to Bush, that they "exchanged pleasantries" and that their discussion was "not substantive; they did not discuss the content" of Waltrip's letter about the TFSC.

July 9, 1999: May's attorneys send a subpoena to Bush regarding the TFSC matter. Bush's office says the governor will fight the subpoena.

Aug. 5, 1999: Cornyn issues a motion to quash the subpoena. The motion is accompanied by an affidavit from Bush saying he "had no conversations with SCI officials, agents or representatives" about the state's investigation.

Aug. 9, 1999: A Newsweek article appears in which Rogers says that while he and Waltrip were in Allbaugh's office on April 15, 1998, Bush stuck his head into the office and asked Waltrip, "Hey Bobby, are those people still messing with you?" Rogers' quote appears to contradict Bush's statement that he has "had no conversations with SCI officials" about the investigation.

Aug. 30, 1999: May's attorneys and attorneys from the Texas attorney general's office are due in court to argue about whether or not Bush should be deposed in the lawsuit.

Sept. 1, 1999: A new law sponsored by Rep. Kenny Marchant, a Republican from Carrollton who got $5,000 in campaign contributions from SCI -- more than any other member of the Texas House -- is scheduled to go into effect. The measure overhauls the TFSC, strips the agency of its general counsel and forces McNeil out as chairman of the TFSC.
salon.com | Aug. 20, 1999

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About the writer
Robert Bryce is a staff writer for the Austin Chronicle.

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