Tam to be sued over Nuuanu cemetery
A group of Nuuanu cemetery niche and plot owners plans to file a lawsuit today against city Councilman Rod Tam and businessman Vic Hejmadi, alleging the two have stalled efforts to reopen Honolulu Memorial Park.
The group of five people grew increasingly concerned after Hejmadi offered to swap the cemetery and its 119-foot pagoda last year for a University Avenue property to develop into student housing.
Last month, First Hawaiian Bank froze the account of Kyoto Gardens Park, the cemetery's fundraising arm. The bank is also asking a Circuit Court judge to determine whether Tam and Hejmadi or the group of five niche and plot owners are Kyoto Gardens' legitimate board of directors.
Hejmadi and Tam claimed to be its president and vice president, respectively, while the group contends it was duly elected as its rightful board.
Honolulu Memorial Park remains closed and without state licensing.
The cemetery filed for bankruptcy four years ago and shut down operations in 2003. The owners cited the high cost of fixing the deteriorating pagoda, visible from Pali Highway.
A group of niche and plot owners formed the Friends of Honolulu Memorial Park, which folded into the existing nonprofit Kyoto Gardens Park. The nonprofit was set up for fundraising by former owners of the cemetery.
On Nov. 25, First Hawaiian Bank filed a lawsuit asking a state court to resolve the issue of who is in charge at Kyoto Gardens Park.
"I'm glad that the (lawsuit) took place," said Ann Ono, one of the five niche and plot owners and officer of Kyoto Gardens Park. "Now everything can be brought out in the open."
"Our first concern is to get the cemetery operating properly so people can visit their loved ones buried there," said Reggie Takaki, a director and also a group member.
The group is concerned Tam and Hejmadi have taken steps to gain control of the cemetery, first by eliminating most of Kyoto Gardens' original board. The two are also listed online with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs as the sole officers of Honolulu Memorial Park. Tam denies being an officer.
Also disconcerting to the group is the DCCA listing of Pagoda Temple at Nuuanu Gardens as a nonprofit corporation, naming one of Hejmadi's companies, Alii Security Systems, as its agent.
Tam refuses to answer certain questions about Kyoto Gardens and the bank's complaint, and Hejmadi and their attorney have not returned phone calls to the Star-Bulletin.
Kyoto Gardens Park had raised about $56,000 as of last year, but that has dwindled to $30,000, Ono said. In 2003 the fund had $100,000 in donations of cash, niches and plots, an attorney for the Friends group said at the time.
"We're wondering what happened to the $26,000," she said. Ono said the board members have not been able to get a full accounting of how money is being spent and are alarmed Hejmadi and Tam offered to trade the cemetery and the pagoda for land owned by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission.
Tam said, "Kyoto Gardens is a private nonprofit organization for fundraising, so we don't have to provide information to plot and niche owners."
Although the cemetery is unlicensed, remains continue to be inurned by four companies, Ono said. Irrigation water is on in some areas, but leaky pipes have to be turned off. Volunteers pick up trash and members take their rubbish home. Weeds are overgrown in common areas, while members maintain their plots.