“I just came at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Mayer Berger. Berger says he is a volunteer supervisor with a group called Chesed Shel Emes that buries indigent people and also does cleanups at scenes where people have died violently, either in car crashes, suicides or homicides. The group buys plots from the Swan Lake Synagogue, which owns half the cemetery. According to Jewish tradition, all blood must be buried with the body.
On Tuesday, DEC environmental police and sheriff’s deputies found blood-soaked linens, cloth and bandages in three red bio hazard bags, while they were questioning Berger on another burial. These bags had been dumped in an area of the cemetery where Berger’s group had been burying people. They had been lying on the ground for several days, near some tombstones in a corner section. Animals had begun to tear them open and carry off the contents.
Berger denied in an interview Thursday having anything to do with the bags. He had showed up with two other volunteers to bury a fetus and while authorities were verifying that he had a permit, the bags were discovered. He said his organization has buried dozens of people in the cemetery on Hysana Road in the past 12 months and the bags were associated with none of these graves.
“I don’t know where it came from because it did not come from our people,” Berger said. “It definitely didn’t come from this summer. We don’t know where it came from. It didn’t come from our people or any of our burials.”
Berger also disputed that he was evasive with investigators. Deputies have theorized that Berger’s group buried a body but didn’t dig the hole deep enough and left the bags lying there.
“I have no clue why the sheriff would say I was not cooperating,” he said. “I answered politely and tried not to be a wise guy with them. I would have no idea why they would say that.”
Berger was issued a summons under the Environmental Conservation Law for unlawful disposal of regulated medical waste.
The bags must now be removed and disposed of by a company certified to transport medical waste. His group faces a penalty of up to $15,000 a day.