Charlie Ramos, a district administrator at the Tulare Public Cemetery, accused former district office director Leonor Castaneda of committing a crime in an April 12 report filed with the Tulare Police Department.
The police department report says Castaneda did not act alone. According to Castaneda and other witnesses, TPCD chairman Xavier Avila was also involved in the alleged criminal activity.
The alleged crime involved exhuming bodies at the cemetery without written consent. Exhumation without written consent is a crime.
The investigation was forwarded to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office on or about September 29 “with the attention of DA investigator Jessica Machado.”
In Ramos’ preliminary report, he told Tulare Garcia police officer that “an error had occurred with two body burials”.
Ramos said the TPCD board discussed the errors at its March 25 meeting and made the decision to conduct an internal investigation into Castaneda.
During their investigation, Ramos told the officer, they discovered that “Castaneda had created fraudulent documents in order to bury Dolly Faria on another body where bones were found without the consent of family members or of the courts “.
The report states that on March 8, 2021, “Castaneda forged documents to exhume Justiniana Jacinto and Silvano Martinez in order to bury the bodies on top of each other without family permission or a court order. Ramos said Castaneda also had Terry Huges [sic] ashes removed without permission from anyone or a court.
“On behalf of the board, he would like to be arrested and prosecuted for the violations committed by Castaneda,” Ramos told Agent Garcia.
The investigation begins
Based on the preliminary report, Detective Cabello from the Tulare Police Department resumed the investigation and questioned Ramos on April 21.
During this interview, Caballo deduced that the crime of moving bodies without written permission probably occurred at the cemetery.
Ramos and other board members placed sole responsibility on Castaneda, but Cabello’s continued investigation also implicated Avila.
On May 21, Detective Cabello interviewed Castaneda where she admitted her guilt but said she did not act alone.
“She confirmed that she and Xavier knew they needed written consent to move the bodies, but the bodies were moved anyway,” the report said.
When the Martinez family called the office to tell them that they did not want to move their loved one’s body, Castaneda told the detective that she had called Avila.
According to the police report, “He told her ‘Leonor, it’s going to be done anyway.'”
Castaneda told detective that Avila was at the grave on the morning of the March 8 double exhumation. At the grave, the Martinez family demanded to see a copy of the policy that gave the cemetery the right to move Silvano’s body without their permission. .
The family “were extremely upset and, according to them, almost attacked him,” the report said.
Police were called “to keep the peace” and told Castaneda and Avila about the exhumation.
According to the report, Castaneda said: “The Martinez family continued to be upset and then the chairman of the board became upset and stepped in to speak to the Martinez family, telling them the cemetery had made a mistake and that ‘they were doing their best. to correct it.
Cabello asked Castaneda “if they (the Martinez family) at any time gave her written consent to move the bodies, and she said they had not given their written consent or signed anything to. move bodies ”.
Witnesses corroborate Castaneda’s story
Longtime caretaker Brian Viera was at the cemetery on the morning of March 8 to assist with the exhumation. According to Viera, several members of the Martinez family were present and strongly opposed the exhumation. They informed Viera that they had not given permission to move Silvano’s body.
Viera told the Martinez family he would let the office manager know of their objections and try to stop the exhumation.
Soon after, Castaneda told Viera to report to the office.
Avila arrived at the burial site and her reaction to their protests, according to the police report, was to pressure the family to move the body.
Castaneda told detective that Avila told the Martinez family that if they didn’t want to exhume Silvano now, “that was fine,” but it would eventually happen.
According to the investigation, the family eventually gave verbal permission, believing they had no choice.
Footage from Channel 21 Univision’s television coverage of the event also confirms that Avila knew the family had not given permission to exhume Silvano Martinez.
Silvano Martinez’s granddaughter Marisela Martinez told Univision in an interview at the grave that the cemetery had called her on Friday afternoon March 5 and informed them that her grandfather would be exhumed on Monday morning. Her family were told they had no say in the decision and that the body would be exhumed with or without their permission.
Shortly after Marisela’s interview, Univision interviewed Avila who expressed sympathy for the family and admitted that the cemetery made a mistake.
“Our family suffered double the grief of having to bury our grandfather twice,” Maricela Martinez told Univision. “Nobody deserves this.”
Ramos and Avila maintain Avila’s innocence
Ramos told the detective that Avila in fact believed the Martinez family had given written permission to move Silvano’s body.
“Avila had just assumed that she had filled out the appropriate papers and that is why he urged her to continue moving the bodies,” he said in the report.
Avila said “I actually stopped the exhumations” in reaction to a written statement from Viera in a May 4 statement. Voice of the valley article.
Ramos did not witness the exhumation, and it is assumed that he based his beliefs on the internal investigation carried out by the Castaneda cemetery.
For most of the year, the board, with the exception of administrator Alberto Aguilar, has walked a tightrope between praising Castaneda’s performance and rejecting Castaneda’s responsibility for all crimes allegedly committed at the cemetery.
Administrator Charlie Ramos declined to comment on the investigation.
“I do not comment on any matter submitted to the press by the Tulare Cemetery District, and the Voice of the valley does not have permission to use my name in this article or any other publication, ”Ramos said.