Bridgeport cemetery in a hole
BRIDGEPORT - Park Cemetery has been run into the ground my its former manager.
The 140-year-old cemetery, the final resting place of former Mayor Jasper McLevy as well as veterans of every conflict since the Civil War, is insolvent and unable to continue operating, says a Shelton woman who is now overseeing it.
“It been difficult to accept but the 140-year-old cemetery that was once financially able to pay its bills and serve area families, the indigent and veterans from the civil war to present with care and dignity is insolvent,” said Cheryl Jansen, who has generations of her family buried there.
Jensen successfully sued to get the cemetery’s manager, Dale LaPrade, ousted.
Recently LaPrade was arrested and charged with interference with a cemetery, a felony, after police found that she was having old graves dug up to make room for new burials.
The cemetery is owned by the families of those buried there and have paid for perpetual care of the grave sites.
Police said LaPrade, who with her husband Daniel have been running the cemetery for 30 years, charges $1,150 for a single grave and $800 for grave openings and $200 more if it is done on a Saturday.
Police said LaPrade told them she averages 140 burials a year and has sole access to the cemetery’s bank account, paying her employees in cash.
In May 2010, the Internal Revenue Service revoked the cemetery’s nonprofit status for failing to comply with IRS rules.
“The LaPrade’s left a financial disaster in their wake,” said Jansen. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal taxes owed, loss of the perpetual care fund paid into by plot owners for decades for maintenance and upkeep of the property.”
Dale LaPrade has declined comment.
Jansen said there are also squatters that refuse to leave the house where the cemetery office is located. All the utilities were disconnected for non-payment by LaPrade, so the building has no heat, electricity or water service, she said.
At this point the cemetery is being overseen by a volunteer board but Jansen said dealing with years of problems created by mismanagement and neglect is beyond the board’s resources.
“Park is still an active cemetery association and it must be responsible to those who have family members interred there and legally own plots. We all want to see Park return to dignity and solvency. It’s not possible to lock the gate and walk away,” she said.