Monday, May 8, 2017
[Riverside County] Authorities investigating Corona cemetery where people claim burial ground was sold
Blog note: this article references a 2014 grand jury investigation about the cemetery.
Local authorities are once again investigating a Corona pauper’s graveyard where allegations have again emerged that land containing gravesites has been sold and desecrated.
On Friday, April 28, Riverside County District Attorney’s office spokesman John Hall confirmed that an investigation is underway at Corona Sunnyslope Cemetery. No arrests have been made or charges filed two days after DA investigators, Corona police and the coroner’s office were seen digging in the dirt at the cemetery’s lower-level, fenced-off potter’s field.
“Please do not be alarmed at PD activity near Sunnyslope Cemetery,” Corona Police tweeted Wednesday, adding that they were assisting the Riverside County DA’s office with a search warrant.
Land once part of the potter’s field was sold in the 1980s, nine decades after Sunnyslope opened in 1892 as a nonprofit graveyard.
A 1994 investigation by the state and Riverside County Coroner’s Office failed to find proof of families’ claims that potter’s field land holding their relatives’ remains had been sold and built on, covered with massive storage units on one side and a nursery and apartments on the other.
In October 2015, 11 people represented by attorney Scott Schutzman filed a class-action suit charging cemetery operators with selling land containing graves to the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco, which later buried at least 17 people there. Schutzman said then that more than 600 people were buried in the pauper’s graveyard.
A photo taken Wednesday by Riverside County Historic Commissioner Don Williamson, who’s led historic tours at the cemetery for years, shows investigators working on land sold to the mosque.
The District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Task Force is conducting an investigation, confirmed Hall, who wouldn’t answer questions about whether remains had been found in land that was sold.
In October 2014, a Riverside County Grand Jury began investigating after cemetery operators used a tractor to grade the potter’s field before selling land that could hold 400 plots to the mosque.
A single granite tombstone and two crosses lying in the dirt were all that remained of dozens of crosses and tombstones in a cemetery once maintained by high school classes and Boy Scouts, including Corona Councilman Eugene Montanez.
In July 2016, County Assessor Peter Aldana said Sunnyslope had been mistakenly classified as government-owned non-taxable property since 1978 and a Riverside County grand jury investigation found cemetery operators, whose nonprofit status was suspended by the state in 2007, hadn’t paid property taxes or business license fees for years.
Schutzman filed a motion April 15 to expand the class-action suit to include other families, including mosque members. The cemetery’s attorney notified him Friday of plans to ask for a stay in the case in Riverside Superior Court on Monday.
Cemetery officials could not be reached for comment.
April 28, 2017
By Suzanne Hurt