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Brooklyn cemetery in mass grave scandal

August 23, 2011

People are dying to get in — and this scandal-scarred Brooklyn cemetery has no problem packing ’em in like sardines!

A Queens senior says his wife’s grave was recently “desecrated” — and her casket possibly damaged — at Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills Cemetery by workers stuffing another casket in a too-close-for-comfort plot nearby.

“I’m devastated! A person should be able to rest in peace — not rest in peace with a question mark,” said Joe Iorio, whose late wife, Barbara Jean, died tragically of leukemia in 1968 at the age of 22.

Iorio, a 66-year-old Ozone Park lab technician, says he visited her grave Aug. 12 and was nearly shocked to death after discovering that hours earlier, workers apparently had “dug up” the once-grassy area. A garden of silk flowers he carefully set up during regular visits over the decades was suddenly gone — its remains tossed in a black garbage bag.

The Post visited the plot this week and found it — and an adjacent plot — resembling freshly dug graves.

Iorio said he’s furious because cemetery workers told him they dug on his wife’s plot to add a second casket to one next to it — and Barbara Jean’s casket was damaged in the process.

“They said it’s common to dig on other people’s graves to put new caskets [in adjacent plots],” he said. “How can they do this without telling me, when I own her plot?”

Several cemetery workers confirmed that they occasionally dig onto adjacent plots when burying caskets, usually to compensate for caskets shifting below ground.“We try to go straight down, but sometimes it’s like a puzzle,” said one worker.

Anthony Desmond, the cemetery’s manager, said he believes that workers didn’t actually dig in Barbara Jean’s plot, but that its topsoil “unavoidably” fell into the hole being dug for the adjacent plot’s new casket. He also attributed any casket damage to “pressure” from being buried for decades — not to machinery or shovels scraping the casket during last week’s digging.

According to the state Division of Cemeteries, no laws exist to deal with such sensitive issues. Plot owners might hold the rights to be buried at a site, but have little control over limiting access, as a homeowner would have.Cemeteries set most of their own rules, including distance between graves.

The 163-year-old, 225-acre Cypress Hills Cemetery is run by a nonprofit organization and has a controversial history.

A state judge in 1998 ordered hundreds of coffins to be moved after it was discovered they were buried within a mountain of unstable construction debris. The state Attorney General’s Office five years earlier had filed misconduct claims against the cemetery and put it under the control of a temporary receiver.

Iorio said he plans to file a complaint with the state’s Division of Cemeteries and is considering a lawsuit — even if it means he has to exhume his wife’s coffin to see if the recent digging damaged it.

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