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Groundskeeper blows whistle on cemetery

September 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Family members who say the remains of their loved ones were disturbed or dumped are suing Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills. Thursday, a former groundskeeper said what he was told to do while working there. Did the cemetery intentionally break existing vaults and then move the remains and sometimes dumping them in order to squeeze in more burial plots and make more money?

That's part of a class action lawsuit. Thursday a former employer spoke to Eyewitness News. He said he was told to do just that and that it went on for more than a decade.

"Right now this section over here," said Mateo Ruelas, a former groundskeeper at Eden Memorial Park.

Mateo Ruelas claims this is where the bones are buried.

"We dump a lot of things, bones and concrete," said Ruelas.

Ruelas points to an image from Air7 to the northeast corner of Eden Memorial. Ruelas was a groundskeeper there for 28 years. He was fired two years ago. He claims he was told to dig new graves so close to the old ones that the existing vaults would tear open and bones would spill out.

"The bosses in the office, they say whatever you do dump everything over there and cover. Bones and everything," said Ruelas.

He said they were buried in a dump. Tossed like garbage.

A class action lawsuit against Eden Memorial claims the cemetery intentionally covered up the graves so that no one would see any damage.

Attorney Michael Avenatti said in the last few days, the cemetery has been asking families to come and see the property.

"In the cemetery, workers and management are telling them, 'See, you can see the freshly planted grass or the neatly planted grass. Everything is OK.' And what families need to understand is that our investigation, it shows that if they go to the cemetery they are not going to be able to see the grave disturbances. Because these disturbances happened underground," said Avenatti.

Attorneys say the same thing happened before at a cemetery in West Palm Beach call Menorah Gardens, which is owned by the same company that runs Eden Memorial Park.

Attorneys claim bodies there were thrown in a swamp behind the cemetery. In that case, the parent company, Service Corporation International (SCI), agreed to a $100 million settlement.

The company would not comment about these new allegations. Earlier this week the company issued this statement: "While very salacious, these allegations are just that -- allegations. We regret that this situation is being sensationalized and we are very sorry the families involved are going through this. Eden Memorial conducts extensive training with its employees and we support that with strict policies and procedures."

The attorneys in the class action lawsuit are asking for the attorney general's office to conduct an investigation into this cemetery.

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