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Old 05-03-2020, 07:44 AM
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Default Grieving families outraged over NYC (Negro) funeral home body-storage scandal


Grieving families outraged over NYC funeral home body-storage scandal
By Bernadette Hogan, Georgett Roberts and Bruce Golding
April 30, 2020 | 2:35pm | Updated

A tearful Tamisha Covington looks for answers on the whereabouts of the body of her beloved mother, Deborah Harris.
Paul Martinka

State officials are probing how decomposing bodies wound up piled in unrefrigerated rental trucks outside a Brooklyn funeral home and lying on the facility’s floor — as horrified relatives demanded answers Thursday.

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Services faced possible “fines and suspensions,” and vowed that “we’ll enforce this as much as possible.”

“We have issued guidance out to all funeral homes that we will not tolerate any of that kind of behavior,” Zucker said during Gov. Cuomo’s daily coronavirus briefing in Albany.

The Department of Health said it sent a team of investigators to the funeral home in Flatlands, where caskets were brought in and out and bodies — some covered with plastic sheets — were wheeled out on stretchers throughout the day.

The situation was described by the DOH as “a first of its kind in terms of this pandemic.”

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office is also “reviewing this incident,” a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, outraged relatives said they got the runaround when they demanded answers from workers inside the funeral home.

Tamisha Covington broke down in tears when she emerged from the storefront business at 2037A Utica Ave. “They charged me $15,000 to lay my mother to rest, and what am I getting out of the $15,000?” she said. “I’m getting her body being in a U-Haul truck for however long.”

Covington said her mother, Deborah Harris, 60, died in her arms at home on April 9 after a heart attack.

Harris wasn’t tested for the coronavirus but has been classified as a victim of the illness, Covington said.

“They said, within two weeks they would have my mother buried,” she said. “This is too much on humanity. I’m really hurt. I don’t even know what I’m looking for other than the fact that I expect to lay my mother down properly with respect and at a reasonable time.”

A man who gave his name as Peter said he tried in vain to find out what had happened to his late ex-wife, who was brought to the funeral home on Friday. He said he was told at the time that “the refrigerators were filled and they were going to embalm her.”

“They just wanted to know that it wasn’t going to be conflicting with any religious whatever,” he said. “And now they are saying she was in the refrigerator as soon as they brought her here on Friday, so I don’t know.”

Peter said he told a woman inside the business that he wanted to “see what condition” the body was in, but was told “to come back later.”

Sources have said the NYPD was alerted Wednesday to the grisly situation by workers at nearby businesses who smelled foul odors coming from the trucks. “It was bad,” said an employee of the Dollar General store next door.

At one point in the afternoon, a worker was spotted cleaning the cargo box of one of the U-Haul trucks on Avenue M, around the corner from the funeral home.

“Disgusting,” said a neighbor who watched the worker sweep a clear liquid out the rear doors.

The funeral home’s website says it’s co-owned by Andrew Cleckley and Alva Stuart, who court records show sued Cleckley for divorce in October.

When reached by phone, she declined to comment beyond saying, “I haven’t been associated with the funeral home for the last two years.”

Andrew T. Cleckley arriving at his funeral home on Thursday morning.
Paul Martinka

A man who answered the funeral home’s phone said Cleckley wasn’t available and hung up.

Professor David Penepent — who runs the funeral-administration-services program at SUNY Canton and has been helping cremate bodies of New York City’s coronavirus victims — said he’d spoken to Cleckley and described him as a “very good man.”

Penepent said Cleckley had been confronted with a situation that “got out of control, out of hand way too quickly” and that the bodies were being moved to an undisclosed area for identification and determination on which can be buried and which need to be cremated.

City Building Department records show the funeral home’s landlord, VG Utica Realty LLC, was given a summons for illegal occupancy in June because the building isn’t zoned for a funeral home. The company didn’t appear at a hearing in August and was slapped with a $500 fine that remains unpaid, records show.

A law firm located at the same address as VG Utica didn’t return a request for comment.
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