Sept 4, 2019 By Allie Griffin
Board Members of a non-profit cemetery in Middle Village pocketed thousands of dollars meant for the cemetery upkeep, while complaining about a lack of funds, according to a suit filed Tuesday by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
The suit claims that seven former and current board members of the nonprofit Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery racked up “millions of dollars in operating costs” to enrich themselves from at least 2014 onward, while the cemetery grounds fell into disarray.
The board members “exploited their positions at the Cemetery to draw fees, salaries, and loans from the Cemetery’s charitable assets while ignoring their basic fiduciary obligation to manage the assets under their control for the benefit of the Cemetery and its property,” the suit alleges.
Among the charges, Attorney General James claims the board members embezzled thousands, paid themselves exorbitant salaries and unauthorized retirement benefits and director fees, lent restricted funds to family members as mortgage “investments,” and ignored the outside auditor’s recommendation to curtail their spending.
The board chairman and former president Daniel Austin, Sr. made out with about $5.4 million in salary for the various positions he served at the cemetery from 1990 and 2014. He retired as president and CEO in May 2014 and received $900,000 in retirement pay, yet continued to work as a salaried chairman of the board for another five years.
In December 2018, Austin, Sr. told the Queens Daily Eagle that the crumbling graves and lack of proper upkeep at the 225-acre Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery was due to a chronic lack of cash. He told the newspaper that funds tied up for perpetual care couldn’t be used to maintain gravesites that haven’t been paid and doing so would mean committing a misdemeanor.
Yet Austin and the board continuously drained thousands and sometimes millions of dollars legally allotted only for perpetual care for other operating costs, according to the suit.
The mismanagement and embezzlement of the cemetery also involved Austin’s son Daniel Austin, Jr., who was appointed president after his father stepped down from the role. The son embezzled $63,000 in unapproved bonuses through the Cemetery payroll, according to the lawsuit.
To top it off, in a July 2018 board meeting, the mismanagement escalated to a physical altercation between board members and Austin Jr. in which he was in possession of a firearm, according to court documents.
Other board members used restricted cemetery assets to provide private mortgage loans to their close relatives, totaling nearly $1 million between 2015 and 2017, according to the complaint.
Attorney General James is seeking to remove the three current board members from their positions, recover any charitable assets lost or stolen, end further payments to board members and recover salaries previously paid to them.
Where can those of us that have family interred here find any updates on this. I did succeed in getting them to stand my family’s stone back up but at my last visit it still wasn’t cemented in place. It’s criminal what these individuals have let happen to this cemetery , I hope they all do jail time and are made to make restitution. Will the cemetery be cleaned up at any point or will it be allowed to continue to decline? And just a note that the grounds crew have allows been very helpful I think they are just stretched way to far.
This cemetery is a disgrace. My great grandparents are buried there I could not find the grave they had a head stone every thing is completely gone. It looked like a bulldozer came in a knocked everything over. How was this allowed to happen. I would like to know how to go about marking their grave and the cemetery should pay for it. Who do I call to find out how to reclaim this grave?
I have uncovered a similar issue with our Cleveland Lutheran Cemetery (LCA) in Cleveland , Ohio. Is there any chance you could direct me to the next step to find bylaws, constitution and incorporation documents ?
Do you have an update on this story? I visited the cemetery 4/30/2021 and it’s in horrible condition. Worse than I have ever seen it. My mom and grandparents are buried on the South Side and it just broke my heart. The office doesnt call me back and I do not know who to write to. Any updates would be greatly appreciated.
My son and I drove from NH to Grandparents grave. It was a horrible experience. The top of the stone was laying on the ground and a tree was growing out of the base. So disturbing. Many graves are the same. These people need to be in jail, not just fired.
I don’t live nearby so I only get to visit my Great Grandparents and Great Great Grandparents graves 1x a year. This Oct. I couldn’t find 1 and the other was sunken next to broken stones. Cemetery looks terrible
Austin’s have always been crooks. So how come they’re not in Jail? Just imagine if this wasn’t old white men.
Where is the 2 million for St Saviors ?
Church in the box still is not built . Council Man Holden was behind that .
Well that explains why headstones are missing and broken. ? has my family known 100 years ago that their hard earned money would be stolen..,,
My mother grave is in that cemetery and to get to her I pass all stones that are knocked down it’s near the opening of all the trucks and flower shops
It’s bad enough when people steal from the living, but to steal from the non-living? I hope they all go to hell – but jail first.