CHARGES OF WRONG BURIALS, UNAUTHORIZED EXHUMATIONS, AND COVERING UP THE EVIDENCE
11/05/03 THE LATEST NEWS From The (Albany) Business Review (scroll down for the history of this case):
Board of Directors at Albany Cemetery to Resign
The board of directors of a Colonie cemetery will resign under the terms of an agreement with the New York State Cemetery Board designed to resolve mismanagement complaints.
The state cemetery board, chaired by New York state Secretary of State Randy Daniels signed a consent order with the six members of the board of directors of Memory’s Garden Cemetery Inc., which operates the Memory’s Garden Cemetery located on Watervliet-Shaker Road, under which the current board will be replaced by eight directors chosen by cemetery lot owners.
No current board members will be allowed to vote at these meetings or serve in any position withthe cemetery at any time. Memory’s Garden officials had no comment on the settlement.
Investigations conducted by the state’s Division of Cemeteries and the attorney general’s charities bureau revealed financial problems at the cemetery as well as incidents of damage to vaults during the burial process, misburials, and unauthorized disinterment and re-interment of remains discovered to be buried in the wrong location.
State law specifically forbids disinterments without family consent.
“Investigations into management practices at Memory’s Garden found serious deficiencies that violated State regulations protecting consumers and jeopardized the long-term financial well-being of the cemetery,” Daniels said in a written statement.
The Division of Cemeteries began investigating Memory’s Garden in July 2002 in response to a number of complaints about mismanagement at the cemetery. Investigators also found potential violations of state cemetery regulations related to pre-construction sales of space in a proposed “Serenity Mausoleum.”
In February 2003 the Cemetery Board ordered the cemetery to stop selling spaces in the unbuilt mausoleum and to come up with a plan for fixing problems. When Daniels deemed the response from the board to be inadequate, the matter was referred to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office.
The settlement announced on Nov. 3 does not shield the former board members from liability for any acts for which they may ultimately be found legally responsible.
The Cemetery Board is contacting family members to inform them of the incidents, and advise them of the changes to the members of the Memory’s Garden board of directors.
Under the terms of the agreement, the state cemetery board will temporarily table its review of Memory Garden’s application to build the Serenity Mausoleum until the new board of directors is in place.
The New York State Attorney General’s Office is investigating a cemetery in Albany accused of burying bodies in the wrong places and then falsifying records to cover it up. According to an investigation by the State Cemetery Board, Memory’s Garden Cemetery buried bodies in the wrong locations, dug them up without permission from families or the courts,”mislead” funeral directors about the problems and then falsified its own records to hide misdeeds.
But it doesn’t end there. The Board also accuses Memory’s Garden’s Board of Directors of violating a host of not-for-profit cemetery regulations and of putting customers’ prepaid crypts in danger. According to the charges, Memory’s Garden was building mausoleums on speculation, selling to customers crypt spaces that weren’t even built yet.
“The cemetery’s sale of mausoleum space prior to construction, without filing the prices for the entombment units with the State Cemetery Board or setting aside a portion of monies received to make refunds in the event space is unavailable at the time of death, violates the New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law and is indicative of gross mismanagement and negligence,” the report states.
The State Cemetery Board’s report can be found here .
FCA learned of this problem on May 4, when an extremely distraught woman wrote to us by email to ask for our advice. She is horrified at the prospect of having to exhume the bodies of her husband and infant; she says their graves are among those affected in this case:
“Will their bodies be badly disturbed to do this? Do I need to be there? What if they exhume the caskets and they are not my family? … I don’t know where or how to begin making new arrangements or picking out another cemetery. I’m afraid my trust is just not there anymore.”
According to the Albany Times-Union, the cemetery’s president, Janet Kolner, denied the allegations. According to the article, Kolner said the cemetery had sent all requested information to the Cemetery Board and she couldn’t understand why the case had been referred to the Attorney General’s office.
Kolner also Memory’s Garden’s Board of Directors found no evidence of any improperly buried bodies “except for the allegations of a former employee who they view as unreliable,” according to the Times-Union.
Assistant Attorney General Robert Pigott told the FCA national office that while cemeteries in New York are to be not-for-profit corporations governed by a democratically elected board, the will of many grave owners often makes little difference.
“In reality, there’s very little lot owner participation in these elections,” Pigott said. “The Board of Directors usually has enough lots to outvote the others and reelect themselves.”
The AG’s office wants to hear from families who believe they may be affected by problems at Memory Gardens. Individuals can call or write to:
Assistant Attorney General, Charities Bureau
NYS Dept. of Law