Possible criminal investigation in Arlington Cemetery scandal
Updated: June 29, 2011 - 06:41 pm
The FBI has joined Army agents investigating possible criminal practices at Arlington National Cemetery that may have led to the burial of eight sets of cremated human remains found in a single location.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army Investigation Command says they are working with the FBI to investigate concerns about the past cemetery administration or employees.
“Our investigation covers grave registrations, anything dealing with burials here at Arlington National Cemetery and the investigation will go wherever the leads take us,” Chris Grey said. He wouldn’t discuss details of the investigation.
One issue under investigation is grave registration. Apparently there is a possibility that people were promised to have grave sites reserved in advance of a death, which is against regulations. While there are no details of who is under investigation, contract and record-keeping fraud is one focus.
A federal grand jury in Alexandria has been subpoenaing witnesses and records, sources told the Washington Post, which said the investigation is done by the FBI and the Army and has been underway for at least six months.
The Army stressed that the current cemetery leadership, which took over after allegations of mismanagement became public, is not being targeted. Jennifer Lynch, a spokeswoman the cemetery, said the leadership is supporting the investigation.
Senator Mark R. Warner, D-Va., stated he could not confirm the federal investigation Tuesday, but said that an inspector general report last year "made it clear that Arlington's back office was an absolute disaster.”
The Department of Justice declined to comment on any possible investigation.
Army investigators found hundreds of mix-ups, including wrongly marked or empty graves, one with eight sets of cremated remains, and some remains which could not be identified.
“Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent on several technology contracts over many years, yet Arlington had nothing to show for those efforts,” Warner said. “If the situation is found to have gone beyond incompetence and involves criminal misconduct or fraud, the individuals who were responsible must be held to account.”
A commander at Fort Myer told ABC7 on Wednesday that soldiers with the Old Guard are assisting the cemetery in trying to account for the 330,000 graves on the grounds.
Soldiers are using an iPhone application and going from grave to grave to account for them, but their survey does not account for whether or not the graves are occupied. Soldiers are taking pictures of the front and back of each headstone, which will be linked to paper records to create a public, searchable database with a GPS marker.
At an April hearing on Capitol Hill, cemetery officials said procedures had been updated to avoid mix-ups in the future. Officials with the cemetery testified they have added staff, equipment and implemented new rules to avoid mistakes in the future. The cemetery is starting to put non bio-degradable tags on each casket and paint numbers on the concrete lids over graves, they said.
Members of Congress strongly criticized the leadership at the nation's most well-known military cemetery.
"I think the best way to describe it is a culture of incompetence," Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said at the hearing.
“These are people who fought for our country and gave their lives for our country and our freedom. It's the least we can do is to take care of the site and make sure everything is managed appropriately,” said tourist Diana Morgan.
Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.