Former Park Cemetery manager charged with embezzlement
BRIDGEPORT — The former manager of the historic Park Cemetery, awaiting trial for allegedly having old graves dug up for new burials, has been charged with embezzling more than $60,000 of the cemetery’s money.
Dale LaPrade, 66, surrendered to police after being told there was a warrant for her arrest.
LaPrade was charged with first-degree larceny and released on a promise to appear in court.
“I’m shocked at the amount of money and pleased the police are still on the case and discovering more evidence,” said Cheryl Jansen, who has four generations of her family buried in the cemetery.
LaPrade’s public defender declined to comment.
Trumbull Attorney Anthony Monelli, a member of the court-appointed board of Park Cemetery, said, “The board is very grateful to the Bridgeport Police Department for all its hard work in bringing justice to those who have loved ones in the cemetery.”
LaPrade, manager of the Lindley Street cemetery for the past 12 years, was charged with interference with a cemetery and second-degree larceny in July 2019 following an intensive investigation by police detectives based on a complaint made by Jansen.
During a civil court trial in which Jansen successfully sued to get LaPrade removed as cemetery manager, Cintron and Biehn testified that dozens of headstones, some dating to the 1800s, had been moved at Park Cemetery so the newly dead could be buried in plots stacked on old graves.
“New dirt was put over older graves and new graves were put there,” Biehn testified.
“There was fresh soil over old head stones and they were in the process of building an access road through the stones,” Cintron testified. “In the woods we found old headstones and human bones that had just been thrown around.”
Cintron testified a grave digger told him he had been ordered by LaPrade to throw old bones and caskets away to make room for new graves.
LaPrade was initially arrested in 2014 after police said Luis Castillo paid LaPrade $1,150 for a burial plot for his deceased wife and himself. A few weeks later, he went to visit his wife’s grave and found that a stranger had been buried in the plot next to her — the plot meant for Castillo.
Castillo said LaPrade admitted she made a mistake and agreed to rebury Castillo’s wife in another plot with a second empty grave for an additional $1,350.
Police on Tuesday said Biehn continued to investigate the financial dealings at the cemetery.
Biehn was able to establish that LaPrade allegedly withdrew more than $670,000 from cemetery accounts between 2016 and 2018.
A forensic fraud examiner who assisted detectives determined that someone they identified as LaPrade made several cash withdrawals a day in some instances and used more than $60,000 of cemetery funds for personal expenses that were earmarked for burials and perpetual care, police said.