Jewish Cemetery Head Earns Fat Salary

Cedar Park Chief Among Highest-Paid Communal Leaders

Eternal Rest: The president of this New Jersey cemetery was forced to give up leadership roles at three New York cemeteries amid allegations of excessive compensation.
shulamit seidler-feller
Eternal Rest: The president of this New Jersey cemetery was forced to give up leadership roles at three New York cemeteries amid allegations of excessive compensation.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published June 11, 2012, issue of June 15, 2012.

(page 3 of 3)

All three of the Schleins were previously involved in operating a number of New York cemeteries. Those relationships ended in 2000, when Klapper, Richard Schlein, Jeffrey Schlein, another current board member of one of the Cedar Park organizations named Herbert Stolitzky, and a fifth man who is now deceased, agreed to give up their stake in the three cemeteries in a pact with the New York State attorney general and the New York Department of State’s Division of Cemeteries.

In the document, signed by the five men, the attorney general alleged that in their various leadership roles at Mount Hebron Cemetery, Cedar Grove Cemetery, Mount Lebanon, and Mount Carmel Cemetery — all in Queens — their total annual compensation between 1993 and 1998 had been “excessive and unreasonable.”

The document also stated that the men owned a company that leased equipment to the cemeteries on terms that the attorney general’s office described as “unfair to the Cemeteries.” The document alleged that the cemeteries allegedly failed to divulge the relationship between the men and the leasing company in audited financial reports submitted to New York State.

In return for the attorney general agreeing not to pursue legal action against the five men, they agreed to resign from their positions at the cemeteries and never to take positions there again.

The five men did not admit wrongdoing, but entered the agreement “in order to resolve any possible violations of the provisions of the Not-for Profit Corporation law and the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law without the necessity of legal action by the Attorney General and the Cemetery Board,” according to the document.

In an emailed statement, Cedar Park spokesman Rose wrote: “The matter with the New York Attorney General was resolved 12 years ago and is long settled.”

A spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the state’s Cemetery Board, did not respond to a request for comment on whether the Cemetery Board was aware of the settlement, and if the board had considered whether it should have an impact on the men’s ability to operate in New Jersey.

The New York agreement came after an investigation by the New York State Cemetery Board. The regulations that govern the New York board stand in stark contrast to the New Jersey board. In New York, the three-member board consists of the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the commissioner of health, or their designees. In New Jersey, the designees of the equivalent positions also have seats — but so do five people who work in the cemetery industry and two members of the public.

In May of 2004, a consumer complained to the New Jersey board about Cedar Park’s fees, according to minutes of one meeting. Klapper was asked to attend the board’s next meeting, in June, to explain his fees.

“Upon review of Mr. Klapper’s response, everything appears to be in order,” the June minutes read. No action was taken.

Cedar Park charges $1,900 to open a grave for burial. On Sundays the cemetery assesses a surcharge that increases throughout the day, beginning at a flat rate of $500 before 12:30 p.m. and moving up to $400 per half-hour after 2:30 p.m.

Following recent conversations with rabbinic leaders and cemetery owners, Loretta Weinberg, the Democratic Majority Leader in the New Jersey State Senate, has written legislation to be intro- duced this year that will reform the state cemetery board. According to Weinberg, the legislation was written largely in response to complaints over the high price of Sunday burials at Jewish cemeteries. Weinberg, whose husband is buried at Cedar Park, has proposed to create three more seats on the board for public representatives, meaning that members of the cemetery industry would be in the minority.

“I think that they’ve been single-minded, because they represent a single industry.” Weinberg said of the current board. “I think we need to do some reformation, and I think there are issues that particularly affect Jewish people and our method of dealing with how we bury our loved ones.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com. Follow him on Twitter @joshnathankazis



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