Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Cleanup arranged for Wesleyan Cemetery

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

An attorney for the state reached an agreement with the caretaker of Wesleyan Cemetery that will allow for cleanup of the 24-acre property until the issue of who is in charge is resolved.

In a lawsuit filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro is fighting to remove Robert Merkle as trustee.

Merkle is back in charge of the cemetery after being released from prison in November after spending 18 months for stealing $93,000 from the cemetery's trust.

Petro says Merkle and other trustees, Bonnie Merkle, Diana Sams and Donald Evans - who are operating the cemetery in Northside - have not done their jobs.

The case is set for trial in December, but in the meantime, the Friends of Wesleyan Cemetery, a nonprofit group that took over the cemetery's care when Merkle was in prison, wants authority to keep the cemetery well groomed.

During a hearing before Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Steve Martin on Monday, the state and Merkle's attorney, P.J. Conboy, agreed to several stipulations until the lawsuit is resolved: Merkle will have no control over financial accounts; he cannot pay himself or any member of his family; funeral homes may not dig graves without court approval; Merkle cannot sell burial plots or spaces in a mausoleum; the cemetery will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Friends of the Wesleyan Cemetery may stay until one hour before sundown while cleaning up; and the city and county can go on the property during the course of their business.

E-mail scoolidge@enquirer.com

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