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Former Cemetery Director Indicted
Man Allegedly Stole Thousands, Including FBI Donations for Hoover Grave

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 1, 2000; Page B01

Not many people would have dared to rob FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover when he was alive.

Cemetery supervisor John Hanley shouldn't have tried it when he was dead, prosecutors said yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Hanley, former director of Congressional Cemetery, where Hoover is buried, has been indicted by a grand jury, accused of embezzling $175,342.02 from dozens of cemetery clients and donors over a 10-year period. The money included a $4,545.80 check in August 1996 from an FBI charity that was to have helped maintain the ultimate G-man's memorial.

Instead, the 64-year-old Hanley used the money to buy racehorses, among a host of other things, the U.S. attorney's office charged in the seven-page indictment.

"We were getting ready for a commemorative ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the director's death in early 1997," said Hillary Robinnette, director of communications for the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI. "I don't know exactly what the check was to have been for, but it was certainly something to do with the director's grave site. . . . It's regrettable, isn't it?"

The U.S. attorney's office has charged Hanley, the only salaried employee of the historic cemetery from 1988 to 1997, with stealing money paid by bereaved families for funerals and gravestones; donations paid by the FBI and the Sons of the American Revolution to pay for upkeep of historical sites; and even the fees he charged to dog-walkers to take their pets through the 33-acre grounds at 1801 E St. SE. It was a particularly cruel blow for a site that was declared one of the nation's most endangered landmarks in 1997 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"We knew something was wrong in 1996 when a man paid $8,000 for a headstone and it never showed up," said Sharyn Danch, the attorney for the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery, a volunteer group that has struggled to preserve the cemetery since 1975. "We looked closer and discovered that headstones weren't delivered, sites were bought but the money never deposited, burials were paid for but never turned up in the bank accounts. It was a whole series of things that went on and on."

Hanley, of the 16000 block of Accolawn Road in Accokeek, pleaded not guilty yesterday before Judge John Facciola. Hanley, wearing a rumpled pair of green slacks and a striped shirt, said Social Security payments were his only income. The retiree was given a court-appointed attorney. He will next appear in court Friday for a status hearing.

Despite being the final resting place of some 60,000 people, including Hoover, march maestro John Philip Sousa, Civil War photographer Matthew Brady and 80 members of Congress, Congressional Cemetery has long since fallen into the shadows. By 1975, when Christ Church of Washington gave up the site as being too expensive to maintain, wild dogs were seen roaming the grounds. Victorian headstones had been destroyed by vandals. There was no map of gravestones, making it almost impossible to find plots in the high weeds.

The all-volunteer association took over upkeep of the cemetery, raised what money it could and set to work cleaning up the place. In 1988, Hanley was hired. During the next nine years, he was the daily administrator, the executive director and a member of the board of directors. He was paid $24,000 a year, sold gravestones and burial plots for a 33 percent commission, and was allowed to keep rental income of about $600 a month from an old gatekeeper's house.

Prosecutor Sherri Schornstein wrote in the indictment that Hanley reported only a fraction of the sales and put most of the cemetery income into his personal bank account.

Shortly after the 1996 incident with the missing headstone, the Internal Revenue Service slapped a $17,000 lien on the cemetery for nonpayment of taxes, and an investigation began in earnest. Hanley resigned at the request of the board of directors in 1997. He was found responsible in a civil suit for the missing headstone, though he never participated in the hearings, said Danch, the cemetery association's attorney.

Meanwhile, the cemetery association was struggling mightily just to mow the grass. It has done without a director since Hanley resigned.

The association enlisted 1,600 volunteers from local military bases for a two-day cleanup of the grounds. It has sought out donors--the FBI kicked in $5,000 in 1997--and has earned the cemetery a spot on the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In 1999, Congress gave the organization a $1 million matching grant. For every dollar raised, Congress will match the donation. Since then, the organization has managed to raise $60,000.

"It's been very difficult to keep the cemetery maintained because of . . . all this," said cemetery association Chairman Jim Oliver, struggling to find the right legal language. "It's all volunteer effort except for cutting grass. We don't have the money to hire a staff. We're not even selling burial sites because we just can't arrange or afford it."

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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