Wesleyan Cemetery Owner Sentenced - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Wesleyan Cemetery Owner Sentenced

A judge dug deep to sentence the cemetery owner found guilty of stealing money meant for upkeep of grave sites.

Wednesday, Robert Merkle received the maximum 18 months in jail on two counts of theft and one count of failing to maintain an endowment. Loved ones of people buried at Wesleyan came to the courtroom, armed with harsh words for the 62-year-old unordained minister.

"I firmly believe there is a special place in Hell for someone who would steal from the dead," said Pat Jaeger.

Merkle took over as president of Wesleyan in 1995 with an endowment of $97,000. He drained the account over time, allegedly using the money for personal expenses and luxuries, while the cemetery suffered from waist-high grass, strewn debris, and sunken or lost graves.

Defense attorney Richard Magnus, in painting a picture of a guy in over his head with good intentions and bad bookkeeping skills, argued for probation, insisting no existing sentence fits the crime. The prosecution pushed for more, based on Merkle's lack of remorse.

"You feel like you haven't done anything wrong," asked Judge John O'Conner.

"No. I don't mean that at all. I mean that we tried," answered Merkle. "If it was done wrong, it was not intentional."

Commissioner Todd Portune plans to ask Hamilton County to take over Wesleyan.

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