State investigators disclosed Thursday that the owners of an embattled Carson cemetery allegedly embezzled about $400,000 from an endowment fund--money that should have gone for upkeep of the decaying burial grounds.
"It may go higher," state Cemetery Board investigator Bob Dail said of the money taken from Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery.
Officials also shed light on the origin of their investigation into the cemetery, the second such inquiry in two months. Earlier this summer, a lawsuit was filed against a Santa Fe Springs cemetery, where numerous violations--including a pile of human bones--were discovered in late June at Paradise Memorial Park.
Ray Giunta, Cemetery Board director, said investigators began their probe of Lincoln at the suggestion of outraged family members who had relatives buried at the Sante Fe Springs site and suggested that investigators look into the second cemetery.
"People at Paradise said, 'Please check out Lincoln. It's bad too,' " he said.
Also, Lincoln officials this year neglected to file a necessary state report on the status of the endowment fund, causing additional suspicion, Giunta said.
Although the investigation at Lincoln is far from complete, Giunta said, violations already are evident. No more than two or three inches of soil covered some coffins, he said, while 40 other markers that should have been installed over grave sites were instead found piled in trash bins and stacked haphazardly against a wall.
Meanwhile, as investigators continued to pore over the Carson cemetery Thursday, at least two attorneys filed class-action lawsuits on behalf of people with friends or loved ones interred there.
Beverly Hills attorney Jeffrey Steinberger and representatives of San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli filed lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court against the cemetery owner and its partners, the Hollywood Cemetery Assn.
Their actions came after visitors to the park this week found headstones missing, others thrown into trash bins and a mausoleum that appeared at least partially empty.
"You're going to have to explain why that mausoleum has nobody in it," Steinberger said. "You're going to have to explain why there's fresh dirt on a grave that's been there since 1969."
Steinberger also is representing plaintiffs in the Santa Fe Springs lawsuit.
Neither lawsuit against Lincoln specified a dollar amount of damages.