State Cemetery Board Announces Resolution Of Memory's Garden Case
The New York State Cemetery Board today announced that the board of directors of Memory's Garden Cemetery, Albany County, will resign as part of an agreement to resolve issues related to the management of the cemetery.
The State Cemetery Board, which is chaired by Secretary of State Randy A. Daniels and whose members also include Attorney General Spitzer and State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., signed a consent order with the board of directors of Memory's Garden, whereby the board members agreed to tender their resignations. The consent order was the result of investigations by the Department of State's Division of Cemeteries and the Attorney General's Charities Bureau.
Under the consent order, lot owners will receive notice of a special meeting to nominate candidates to serve on the board of directors of Memory's Garden, and a subsequent meeting will be scheduled to elect a new board. No current board members will be allowed to vote at these meetings or serve in any position with the cemetery at any time. In order to facilitate the process of transition, current board members may be permitted to remain pending the installation of the elected board.
"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," Secretary Daniels said. "The provisions of this agreement will correct these institutional problems, preserve the financial stability of the cemetery, and help to maintain public trust. The State Cemetery Board will actively supervise the transition and continue to monitor activities at the cemetery to ensure that State laws, rules and regulations are followed and the integrity of the cemetery is upheld."
Attorney General Spitzer said, "The people of New York expect honesty and integrity from those who manage cemeteries and are charged with ensuring the respectful repose of the dead."
In response to complaints of mismanagement at the cemetery, including misburials, improper handling of interments, and falsified records, the Department of State's Division of Cemeteries initiated an investigation of Memory's Garden in July 2002. The investigation also highlighted financial concerns and potential violations of State cemetery regulations related to pre-construction sales of burial space in the proposed Serenity Mausoleum.
Based upon findings of the Division of Cemeteries investigation, the State Cemetery Board issued an order on February 27, 2003, directing Memory's Garden to cease-and-desist from pre-construction sales of burial space in the unbuilt Serenity Mausoleum, and also to review cemetery operations and develop a comprehensive management plan for daily activities to ensure compliance with all applicable State laws, rules and regulations. The response from the cemetery's board of directors was deemed insufficient and the case was referred to the State Attorney General's Office for enforcement action.
In May 2003, the Attorney General initiated a further investigation into the activities at Memory's Gardens and the actions of its officers and directors. The Attorney General presented his findings to the State Cemetery Board, which has reached a settlement with six current members of the Memory's Garden Board of Directors. These directors will resign and be replaced by a new 8-member board elected by the cemetery's lot owners. The settlement does not shield the former board members from liability for any acts for which they may ultimately be found legally responsible.
The Attorney General's investigation led to the discovery of a number of additional incidents ranging from unreported damage to vaults during the burial process to misburials and unauthorized disinterment and re-interment of the remains of persons discovered to be buried in the wrong location. State law specifically prohibits disinterments without the prior knowledge and unanimous written consent of surviving family members, the owner of the lot, or the Supreme Court. The investigation found that these required consents were never obtained.
Attorney General Spitzer added, "I will be preparing legislation that will make the intentional disturbance of the remains of the deceased a criminal act."
The Cemetery Board is in the process of 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.
The settlement also provides that the outgoing board members will cooperate with the State Cemetery Board should it seek to replace temporarily certain key cemetery employees and contractors prior to the election of a new board of directors.
Under 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 State Cemetery Board also will continue to coordinate corrective actions with the cemetery and the families of persons affected by possible misinterments. Memory's Garden will be managed by administrators from another cemetery, to be chosen by the Board.
The Attorney General's investigation was handled by Assistant Attorney General Donald P. Segal under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Robert Pigott. The Department of State's investigation was led by its Division of Cemeteries under the guidance of Director Richard Fishman.