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.”
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.
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.