Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Cemetery official charged with theft

Funds allegedly paid for toys, tuition

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Northside cemetery president used nearly $100,000 earmarked for cemetery upkeep to buy toy trains, satellite TV and school tuition for his grandchildren, authorities say.

        A Hamilton County grand jury indicted Robert A. Merkle, 61, of Northside, Tuesday on three counts of felony theft and one count of failure to maintain an endowment care fund.

        The indictment accuses Mr. Merkle of bilking thousands of dollars from an endowment designed to maintain grave sites e at Wesleyan Cemetery on Colerain Avenue.

        If convicted, Mr. Merkle faces up to six years in prison and a maximum $5,000 fine.

        Mr. Merkle became president of Wesleyan Cemetery Inc. — an Ohio, non-profit corporation that owns and maintains the cemetery — in 1995.

        “When Mr. Merkle became the president, the corporation had over $97,000 in an endowment care fund,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen.

        Endowment money may only be used for the improvement, maintenance and care of the cemetery.

        Beginning in 1995, Mr. Merkle began transferring money out of the endowment fund into a separate checking account, Mr. Allen said.

        “He began spending the funds on personal expenses such as toy trains,” the prosecutor said.

        Mr. Merkle also used the money to pay credit-card bills, veterinarian bills and private-school tuition for his grandchildren, to buy a satellite television system and to eat out at restaurants, Mr. Allen said.

        By 2000, all the funds were exhausted and the endowment care fund empty.

        “During this time, Mr. Merkle also continued to sell burial plots but failed to contribute the proceeds to the endowment fund,” Mr. Allen said.

        “In effect, the defendant is charged with stealing the money,” Mr. Allen said.

        Mr. Merkle did not return telephone calls Tuesday.


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