Chair, former office manager implicated in alleged criminal activity at Tulare Cemetery

Charlie Ramos, a Tulare Public Cemetery District trustee, accused the district’s former office manager Leonor Castaneda of committing a felony in an April 12 report filed with the Tulare Police Department.

The police department’s report states that Castaneda did not act alone. According to Castaneda and other witnesses, TPCD Chair Xavier Avila also participated in the alleged criminal activity.

The alleged felony was disinterring bodies at the cemetery without written consent. Disinterment without written consent is a felony.

The investigation was forwarded to the Tulare County District Attorney’s office on or about September 29 “with attention to DA Investigator Jessica Machado.”


Preliminary Report

In Ramos’ preliminary report, he told Tulare Police Officer Garcia that a “mistake had occurred with two body burials.”

Ramos said that the TPCD board discussed the mistakes at their March 25 meeting and made the decision to do an internal investigation of Castaneda.

During their investigation, Ramos told the officer, they discovered that, “Castaneda had created fraudulent documents in order to bury Dolly Faria on top of another body where bones were found without the consent of family members or courts.”

The report stated that on March 8, 2021, “Castaneda falsified documents to disinter Justiniana Jacinto and Silvano Martinez in order to bury bodies on top of each other without family permission or court order. Ramos said Castaneda also had Terry Huges [sic] ashes removed without permission from anyone or court.”

“On behalf of the board, he would like arrest and prosecution for violations by Castaneda,” Ramos told Officer Garcia.


Investigation starts

Based on the preliminary report, Detective Cabello from the Tulare Police Department took over the investigation and interviewed Ramos on April 21.

During that interview Caballo deduced the crime of moving bodies without the written permission most likely occurred at the cemetery.

Ramos and other members of the board 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 both she and Xavier knew they needed written consent to move the bodies but the bodies were moved anyway,” said the report.

When the Martinez family called the office to tell her that they did not want to move their loved one’s body Castaneda told the detective that she called Avila.

According to the police report, “He told her ‘Leonor, it’s going to get done anyway.’”

Castaneda told the detective that Avila was at the grave site the morning of the double disinterment on March 8. At the grave site, the Martinez family asked to see a copy of the policy that gave the cemetery the right to move Silvano’s body without their permission.

The family “was extremely upset and, according to her, nearly attacked her,” the report stated.

The police were called “to keep the peace” and spoke to both Castaneda and Avila about the disinterment.

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 that the cemetery had made a mistake and they were trying 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 that they did not give written consent or sign anything to move the bodies.”


Witnesses corroborate Castaneda’s story

Long time groundskeeper Brian Viera was at the cemetery the morning of March 8 to assist in the disinterment. According to Viera several members of the Martinez family were present and strongly objected to the disinterment. They informed Viera that they had not given their permission to move Silvano’s body.

Viera told the Martinez family that he would inform the office manager of their objections and that he would try to stop the disinterment.

Soon after Viera was told by Castaneda to report to the office.

Avila arrived at the grave site and his reaction to their protestations, according to the police report, was to pressure the family into moving the body.

Castaneda stated to the detective that Avila told the Martinez family that if they did not want to disinter Silvano now “that was fine” but it was eventually going to happen.

According to the investigation the family finally gave verbal permission on the belief that they had no choice.

Footage from Channel 21 Univision televised coverage of the event also confirms Avila’s knowledge the family had not given their permission to disinter Silvano Martinez.

Marisela Martinez, Silvano Martinez’ granddaughter, told Univision in an interview at the gravesite that the cemetery called her Friday afternoon, March 5, and informed them that her grandfather would be disinterred Monday morning. Her family was told they had no say in the decision and that the body was going to be disinterred with or without their permission.

Shortly after Marisela’s interview, Univision interviewed Avila who expressed sympathy towards the family and admitted the cemetery made a mistake.

“Our family suffered double the grief having to bury our grandfather twice,” Maricela Martinez told Univision. “No one deserves that.”


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 she had the proper paperwork completed and that was why he pressured her to continue moving the bodies,” he stated in the report.

Avila declared “I actually stopped the disinterments” in reaction to a written statement by Viera in a May 4 Valley Voice article.

Ramos was not a witness to the disinterment, and it is assumed he is basing his beliefs on the internal investigation the cemetery conducted on Castaneda.

For most of the year the board, with the exception of Trustee Alberto Aguilar, has walked a tightrope between praising Castaneda’s performance and placing the responsibility at Castaneda’s feet for all the alleged crimes committed at the cemetery.

Trustee Charlie Ramos would not comment on the investigation.

“I do not comment on any matters before the Tulare Cemetery District to the press, and the Valley Voice does not have permission to use my name for this article or any other publications,” Ramos said.

27 thoughts on “Chair, former office manager implicated in alleged criminal activity at Tulare Cemetery

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  1. Very interesting news article that reveals informtion kept from this member of the Board of Trustees. Therefore, I can honestly state,”There was no thorough investigation conducted by the Board of Trustee regarding the double disinterment and/or the double burials that were done secretly and in violation of the law.”

    • Says the man who has pending charges following a Tulare PD investigation in the District Attorneys office. Shut up Criminal.

  2. “………and the Valley Voice does not have permission to use my name for this article or any other publications,” Ramos said.”

    Don’t think they need it sir. lol

    • Board members are public figures. The media does not need “permission” to report on the activities of government officials, large or small.

  3. Ironic that in a matter regarding permissions not acquired, Ramos thinks the press needs permission to report on his doings

  4. Call, email or meet up with our Tulare County Supervisor Pete VanderPoel and encourage him to not reappoint these complicit Cemetery Trustees and to remove Xavier Avila. Furthermore encourage many in Tulare to apply to the Cemetery Board ASAP to bring integrity and trust back to our public entity that serves the public at one of our most vulnerable moments: death in family or friends. We need accountability and justice for what was allowed to occur under the Trustees oversight.

    • Oh Alex, I’m sure that you’ll be throwing your hat in the ring. You’re already mimicking Alberto and Vicky. Please think for yourself. You’ll be the next person that they attempt to throw under the bus. Be very careful what you wish for.

  5. Well, well finally someone besides Alberto has found wrong doing. Xavier has always run the cemetery without the full board voting on matters and then got a rubber stamp after the fact. Pete Vanderpool was asked not to re appoint Xavier and did so anyway, knowing there were complaints by Al Aguilar and Vicki Gilson about him not following the law.

    • You couldn’t find millions missing in your own district, yet you think you’re an expert. Show me proof of any wrongdoing in Tulare. Other than Alberto, there is none. Grasping at straws again. You people really need to get a life of your own and stop throwing false accusations around.

  6. Can’t you report on real and accurate news? Valley Voice has turned into nothing but a rag writing unverified and fake news.

  7. Isn’t this like ‘ old news “?????? It keeps the names of those who lost their loved ones in public over and over It must be painful to have the media keep printing g their names. And YES please please contact whoever TO REMOVE ALBERTO AGUILAR MS Philpot seems to forget the $$$$$$ embezzeled at Visalia Cemetery while on her watch and as for Guiterrez dobt even get me started. .lol All 3 of them constantly stirring the pot Just can’t help themselves…

  8. It seems that there is a lot of accusations and suppositions going on here without that facts. 1 this is a ongoing investigations by the Tulare Police Department 2. people being investigated is Castaneda. 3.There are the two people that knew of this wrong doing. Castaneda falsified documents; a crime in itself. Avila acted on false pretense of information and told the family the had no choice in the matter. 4 the only way people can be removed from a board once appointed by the Board of Supervisor’s is the California State Attorney General. The Valley Voice only reports on what it reads as we do. Yolonda Allen you’re quick to criticize and point your finger; why don’t you throw your hat in the ring? There is no district unity as far as I can read. Avila is the one man show and speaks for the board. Let him be held accountable for what has happened. He wants to be recognized give it to him weather he likes it or not. After all, this happened on his watch. People and your comments only add more fuel to the fire.

    • All lies and false accusations which is nothing new . The ValleyVoice article is written to give people a false impression. I’m not under any investigation. Catherine says according to the report but that’s not the truth . Catherine says “ witnesses corroborate “ but that a lie . She wants to fool readers into thinking the police report found other people who corroborated a false accusations but the truth is that only one person was interviewed in that report. Catherine is making that up ? She doesn’t say how this corroboration fits . That’s because it doesn’t and she just wants people to get tricked into believing that . The ValleyVoice works with political activists to engineer political stunts . Alex Gutierrez , Alberto Aguilar and Catherine Doe plan this little call to arms just like what happens in National politics. A big news story is released followed by the activists call to action . Just look at them maneuver now that the big story kicked off . They are demanding I resign and Pete Vanderpoel replace me , Charlie Ramos and Steve Presant with their political hacks. Notice they have nothing to say about the cemetery itself ? Because they don’t care . The cemetery was a disaster 4 years ago and today it green and beautiful, plus the cemetery district is financially strong . Watch how mad they get when I say that ! It really gets to them . People like Patrick and Barbara ignore the facts that the ValleyVoice defended Vicky Gilson after she moved to Missouri and she was no longer eligible to serve as a board member. The ValleyVoice wrote articles and made FB comments defending her . However the BOS weren’t fooled and replaced her . Also the ValleyVoice has protected Alberto Aguiar after he illegally gave public evaluations of Cemetery employees. Alberto voted for the settlement agreement with the former manager. The vote was 5-0 . Why ? Because his actions put the cemetery district at risk for a massive lawsuit. Why hasn’t the ValleyVoice reported on this ? The cemetery district found that Alberto violated our settlement agreement and Confidentiality and voted 4-0 to send his wrong doing to the Tulare Co DA . Why is there a email with Catherine Doe where she is collaborating with Alex Alberto and Vicky Gilson. Should a journalist be active in a political ploy ?

    • Patrick
      No I didn’t tell the family they had no choice .They did have a choice I told them the truth . There was two families. The one family was the legal owner of the first grave and they had a legal right to it . Both graves were open at this point . The second family ask if we could cover them back up and leave it . I told them yes we could . I told them say the words and the employees will do that . However it would have been wrong to not inform them that the other family who were standing 100 feet away wanted their loved one in the proper plot. The one they had a legal right to and it was very likely if they go to court the judge would grant them a legal right to correct it . It’s equivalent to holding the pink slip of a car that was sold to someone else . The legal owner is the one with the pink slip . The first family was politely firm and I respect that. I think it would have been wrong not to inform the second family about that possibility . They could have ended up coming back months later and repeating this traumatic event. At this time my belief was we had the proper paperwork however the family was so stressed out I felt that they deserve the opportunity to make the decision. There was no way we where going to go against the wishes of the second family. I had let the first family know that if the second family asked to stop and cover the graves back up that we would do that . We would have let the court settle it . The first family understood that and had sympathy for the other family. The second family made the decision. Yeah it wasn’t easy for them but none of the other options were easy. The second family told me they didn’t want to go though the pain again . I have nothing but sympathy for both families and I right there and then called for a special board meeting to deal with this , which we had the very next day .

      However let me ask you this . If this is an on going investigation then why was it release to a News Paper. Shouldn’t I have been released after the investigation is complete ? Wouldn’t the release of this report potential create problems if it’s still being investigated. You are a smart person ! What’s your opinion?

  9. Mr. Avila; If you felt that you have been wronged and the information that the Valley Voice is false, can you prove it wrong in a court of law? You have the right to say and bully anybody that responds to this article. You’re the board President and you’re in the spot light as always. You don’t like it unless it’s praise. You say the Tulare Public Cemetery District is in great financial shape but yet you hedge on a forensic audit of district funds. In my personal opinion only I think this would shut up a lot of people that point fingers. If Catherine Doe is putting out false information you do have the right to sue the Valley Voice, Times Delta, and The Tulare Register. But in this suite you better have proof of the lies. You can sit at the head of the table on your throne and run the dog and pony show because you’re the king! But let’s see what happens down the road when you’re on a witness stand and you’re asked point blank questions. Let’s see what you have to say when the video is played and there you are center stage doing your song and dance. What is that ole saying let sleeping dog lie? Ms. Castenada is the key and this happened on your watch My. President! I’d be real nervous as to what she has to say.

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