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Suit Claims Newark Archdiocese Failed to Pay Taxes on Monuments

3-31-14

By Christie Duffy
Correspondent

More bad PR for the Newark Archdiocese for failing to pay some state taxes and allegedly using an unfair advantage to take over an industry.

“In a short period of time, we’re not gonna be here anymore. I don’t care what they say, how they say it, we are gonna be out of business,” said Monument Builders of New Jersey President John Burns Jr.

Burns owns a fifth generation monument and mausoleum business, and another one in Jersey City. He’s also president of the industry association in the state.

He and other business owners are suing the diocese for encroaching on their industry, claiming the church is selling monuments and mausoleums. As a tax exempt organization, Burns says he can’t compete with their prices. And that the church has close relationships with potential customers — grieving families.

“Basically they want to bring more money into the Archdiocese,” Burns said.

The Star-Ledger reports the Diocese has not paid the state tens of thousands of dollars in taxes on the wholesale purchase of monuments for eight years.

In a deposition, the man in charge of Catholic cemeteries for the Diocese, admits to not paying it even though the church is subject to this particular tax.

The church is now reportedly looking to pay those back taxes.

Religious cemeteries must use the profit from selling plots to maintain the cemetery. Using that money for anything else is against the law.

“We have never seen them allocate any money into any preservation fund from the sale of these monuments or mausoleums into any particular fund for the future maintenance. There is no evidence to show that whatsoever,” Burns said.

It’s against the law for a cemetery operator — religious or non-sectarian — from selling headstones and mausoleums. But the church argues they are not selling monuments. They’re selling encryption rights, or the rights to use their monuments and mausoleums.

“But the cost of engraving on one of their monuments is equal to the cost of purchasing a monument, so you tell me,” said Burns.

In emails dated December 2012, Diocese officials estimated inscription rights sales would reign in half a million dollars for the church, pumping up their annual assessment to nearly $3 million.

To which Monsignor Michael Andreano responds full speed ahead, great news and potential, cautioning the man who runs the Diocese’s cemeteries, “Let me know if you sense the beginnings of any ‘negative PR’ [from monument dealers]. However [he says] no need to let it change your plan and approach.”

The Diocese would not comment on the lawsuit. The case will go before a judge tomorrow.