Thursday, May 23, 2002

Defense to begin in cemetery case

By Marie McCain,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The defense is expected to begin its case today in the trial of Wesleyan Cemetery administrator Robert Merkle, accused of stealing nearly $100,000 from the endowment care fund of the Northside burial ground.

[photo] Helen Louise Grigg testifies Wednesday in Robert Merkle's trial. Her husband and parents are among those buried in the cemetery.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        On Wednesday, plot owners testified that they did not give the 62-year-old Methodist minister permission to take money from the endowment care fund earmarked for cemetery maintenance.

        Albert “Jean” Toepfert testified that burial plots in Wesleyan have passed down through his family since they were purchased in 1851.

        There are plots still vacant, but because of the cemetery's conditions, Mr. Toepfert said he would not use them.

        The prosecution contends Mr. Merkle violated Ohio law when he failed to continue to register the cemetery with state regulators.

        Prosecutors say Mr. Merkle drained the endowment fund of $93,000 and failed to deposit proceeds from the continued sales of cemetery plots to maintain the fund.

        In 1999, when the fund was depleted, graves became overgrown and upkeep suffered.

        Ted Hornyak, a state regulator, testified that Mr. Merkle failed to renew the cemetery's license after 1997, when he stopped sending the paperwork.

        He added that Mr. Merkle never indicated that the cemetery was being run as a church organization. He indicated only that the cemetery was a corporation.

        Mr. Merkle contends he wanted to run Wesleyan under the auspices of the Methodist church.

        According to Ohio law, a church cemetery would not be required to maintain an endowment care fund. A cemetery that is incorporated is required to maintain such a fund.


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