When a cemetery foundation believed to have nearly $300,000 reportedly wouldn’t pay an $8,000 groundskeeping bill, suspicions were raised to police and an investigation began.
Indiana State Police now accuses a local couple who were leaders of the cemetery foundation of writing checks worth more than $150,000 to themselves, according to a probable cause affidavit provided to Wayne County courts.
Trisha Collins Taylor and Dustin L Taylor, both 43, of the 200 block of East Delaware Street in Cambridge City, are accused of taking money from the board operating Zion Lutheran Cemetery in Pershing.
Each faces a Level 5 felony theft charge.
According to the cemetery foundation’s 2018 business entity filing to the Indiana secretary of state’s office, Trisha was listed as board president and Dustin was listed as secretary. He also is described as cemetery superintendent in the probable cause affidavit.
Wayne Superior Court 2 Judge Greg Horn found probable cause on March 30 for Trisha Taylor to be arrested. Her bail was set at $15,000, with 10 percent cash authorized. A $1,500 bond was entered April 3 in the clerk’s office, according to court records.
An initial hearing in Trisha Taylor’s case has been scheduled for May 1.
Then, a probable cause affidavit was filed April 4 in a case against Dustin Taylor, and Horn issued a warrant for his arrest the following day. Horn set his bail at $35,000, with 10 percent cash not authorized.
Concerned residents began asking questions late last summer after realizing the cemetery hadn’t been mowed for a while. They learned the cemetery owed the groundskeepers $8,015. When the maintenance company tried to collect, Trisha Taylor said the cemetery foundation didn’t have enough money to pay them, and then wouldn’t return calls, the affidavit said.
A board member became concerned and contacted Indiana State Police last September. He told Detective Andy Wandersee that in 2014, the last time the board had reviewed the cemetery’s finances, $278,362 was in its bank accounts, gathered from sales of burial plots, donations, money left in wills, and opening and closing burial vaults. The cemetery’s 2014 expenses were $15,884.
The board member then went to local banks holding the cemetery’s accounts, and was told that Trisha Taylor had closed them all, the affidavit said. One of those accounts worth $34,865.14 had been closed in 2015, just after Trisha took over as president, and the signatures on that paperwork were from the couple, the affidavit said. Another account of $69,000 also was closed that year, police said.
The board member told police there had been six board members, but one had died and one had moved out of the area, leaving four. The four included the two Taylors and one of their relatives, the affidavit said. And, the board hadn’t met in more than three years, despite bylaws that require an annual meeting.
Two other items added to ISP’s concerns:
- The cemetery’s nonprofit association, The Lutheran Cemetery Foundation of Pershing, Indiana, created in 1970, no longer existed because required business entity filings had not been submitted in 2020 to the Indiana secretary of state’s office. It was dissolved by the state and went inactive as of Feb. 5, 2021.
- Police were told that when several potential clients called to buy a plot, Trisha told them they must pay cash, the affidavit said.
Wandersee interviewed Trisha Taylor in October, and he said she denied taking any cemetery money for personal use. She told police that she would write checks to cash to herself or her husband because sometimes contractors wanted cash instead of checks. When asked how much was in the cemetery account, she said $200.
Trisha Taylor told police that she did not have the cemetery’s financial records, because the wife of the pastor of the adjacent Zion Lutheran Church had them. However, the retiring pastor said his wife did not have the records because the church and cemetery operate separately, and the church had nothing to do with the cemetery.
After subpoenaing bank records, Wandersee learned that $19,328.74 in checks had been written to one of the Taylors in 2015. Records from 2016 and 2017 were similar, Wandersee said.
From Feb. 1, 2018, to Jan. 31, 2020, Trisha signed $66,789 in checks to herself or her husband; $36,382 in the next year, and $14,420 the following year, meaning the couple received more than $150,000 of the cemetery’s money while Trisha was president and Dustin was superintendent, the affidavit said.
Wandersee then subpoenaed financial records for the Taylors’ personal accounts from 2015-2022. They appeared to indicate the couple would cash part of the checks and deposit the rest in their account throughout the month to pay personal bills, the affidavit said.
During Wandersee’s investigation, concerned residents conducted emergency meetings starting last September to determine the cemetery’s fate.
A new board is now overseeing cemetery bookkeeping, and volunteers successfully applied for its tax-exempt status to be reinstated earlier this year.
Zion Lutheran Cemetery’s annual public board meeting takes place at 1:30 p.m. April 22 at the adjacent Zion Lutheran Church, 1151 S. Germantown Road, Pershing.
Donations for the cemetery are again tax-deductible after the organization’s nonprofit status was reinstated. Checks made payable to Lutheran Cemetery Foundation of Pershing can be sent to P.O. Box 22, Pershing, IN 47370.
Board President Paul Railsback said those with questions or concerns, or who want to be on the cemetery’s contact list for updates, are invited to call or text him at 765-914-8967.
Those who own plots are now encouraged to send a copy of their certificate of burial rights to the P.O. box to help ensure board records are up to date.
A version of this article appeared in the April 12 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.