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An East Side cemetery trying to come back after scandal, neglect and abandonment has overcome another hurdle -- the Internal Revenue Service.

In December, the IRS notified the new board of directors at Concordia Cemetery on Walden Avenue that it owed the government more than $30,000 in back payroll taxes, fines and interest.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, with the help of Council President David A. Franczyk, spoke with the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service in Buffalo. They explained that the tax problems occurred under a previous board, when the cemetery fell victim to disrepair and theft by its former treasurer.

The IRS agreed the new board wasn't responsible for the back taxes and dropped the case against the struggling cemetery, according to Clinton's press office.

Paying back taxes and fines from the late 1990s and early 2000 would have devastated efforts to keep Concordia afloat, cemetery board members said.

"Now we can concentrate on our volunteer efforts to bring Concordia Cemetery back to a place of beauty and serenity," said Diane Savatteri, a board member.

The 15-acre cemetery, founded in 1859 by German immigrants, contains more than 10,000 graves.

The previous board took control in the 1970s and fought for years to keep it afloat before shutting down and asking the City of Buffalo to take it over in 2001.

Problems were compounded by the theft of more than $154,000 by William Whitehead, the cemetery's former treasurer, who served prison time after pleading guilty to grand larceny.

The 146-year-old burial grounds, meanwhile, was out of money and space, and the grass had grown 3 feet high in spots.

Last year, friends and relatives of those buried there selected a new, volunteer board.

Currently, the cemetery has some money to hire a landscaper to mow the grass, and it has received a $54,000 state grant to fix the broken fence and toppled gravestones, Savatteri said. The cemetery board also has placed a lien against Whitehead's properties in attempt to recoup some of the stolen money, she said.


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