Funeral Company Sued For $200 Million For Desecrating Jewish Cemetery in Florida
The desecration of Star of David Memorial Gardens, reported by the Sun Sentinel, wasn't motivated by politics, or ideology, or hate. According to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Palm Beach Circuit Court, it was done in the name of profit, or simply out of gross negligence. The plaintiffs are suing for $200 million.
The class action lawsuit claims that for years SCI Funeral Services has instructed workers to bury individuals in the wrong grave plot; secretly dig up human remains and move them without notifying families; crush burial containers to make room for more; literally bury evidence of damaged containers; and dump burial containers, which may have contained human remains, into the adjacent lake.
Employees were allegedly threatened that if they spoke out they could lose their jobs.
The lawsuit further claims that SCI didn't know where some individuals were buried, and purposely sold plots it didn't have space for.
Not only did directors at SCI Funeral Services direct their employees to do these things, according to the lawsuit, but executives at SCI's headquarters in Houston knew about it, and were part of the campaign to cover it up. SCI owns cemeteries, funeral homes and crematories at approximately 2,000 locations in North America, according to spokeswoman Lisa Marshall. Most of their 381 cemeteries aren't Jewish.
"As a result of the situation described above," the lawsuit states, "every person who has buried a loved one at Star of David, and every person who has purchased grave spaces and/or burial/funeral services and merchandise at Star of David has been defrauded."
These actions, the lawsuit continues, "are morally despicable and have no place in civilized society."
"Obviously we'll conduct a thorough investigation into the claim," says Marshall. "I think it's important to note, that in all of our cemeteries we have strict quality controls. We feel like those strict standards have been adhered to."
SCI was found guilty of a similar slate of crimes back in 2001 at another cemetery, Menorah Gardens, not far from Star of David. It was accused of overselling burial plots, and digging up and scattering remains to make room for more. SCI settled in 2009 for $100 million, with $40 million of that split between 350 families according to the level of desecration their loved ones' had suffered. It was considered one of the biggest cases of cemetery abuse in American history.
"As a result of Menorah, the whole industry took a good look at their procedures," says Marshall. "And we certainly did a very thorough rewrite of our policies and procedures."
Marshall says that training for their on-site employees is usually "a day or two."
SCI is also currently a defendant in another class action lawsuit concerning the desecration of a cemetery in Los Angeles.
"This is Menorah all over again but on a much greater scale," lead attorney for the plaintiffs Michael Avenatti told the McClatchy-Tribune.
The class action suit currently has two named plaintiffs, although there will probably be more to come. Avenatti believes more than 1,000 families are affected. "If any family is concerned," says Marshall. "They should call us."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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