Doris V. Amen is a vibrant presence in a business not known for vibrancy.
Donning her high heels and driving “Old Betsy,” her 1978 S&S Superior Classic Cadillac Hearse, the funeral director for Jurek – Park Slope Funeral Home (728 4th Avenue at 23rd Street) has been comforting the bereaved for over 25 years.
She’s garnered the respect of Green-Wood Cemetery’s president Richard Moylan, who chose Amen to bury his mother. “She is fair with families. She treats them well and does the right thing. We have confidence in her … I trust her,” Moylan said in an interview with American Funeral Director.
“Old man Jurek is rolling in his grave!” Amen says as she thumbed through her stack of legal documents, building ground plans, photocopies of cashed checks, place of assembly certificate of operations, and photographs of an apartment upstairs.
John Jurek was the founder of the funeral home that still bears his name.
The city’s Department of Finance is attempting to collect more than $164,000 in fines and penalties that the Department of Buildings says she is responsible for paying. However, Amen believes that she is “being harassed to pay what she does not owe.” A collection agency sent a letter to her dated April 10, 2017.
Amen explains that it all started on December 17, 2014, when she says an inspector entered the funeral home after a door’s lock was broken and claimed that a deceased body was illegally located in a restaurant.
Indeed, the building once housed a restaurant: Blue Point Bar & Grill. However, that was in the 1940s. The building has functioned legally as a funeral home since 1950.
That particular inspector had pulled the wrong Certificate of Occupancy, which marked the beginning of what has now become an expensive set of penalties which Amen believes will threaten to close her business.
Not one to shy away from the camera, Amen had Brooklyn filmmaker Jay Cusato assemble a short film as an introduction to the debacle.
A spokesperson from the DOB said that the block and lot on the 1950 Certificate of Occupancy was listed incorrectly, which is the reason why their inspectors used the 1938 Certificate of Occupancy — which has correct block/lot info — for reference during their inspection.
According to The New York Post, “the city finally discovered ‘a typo’ in paperwork, and admitted a certificate of occupancy issued in 1950 allowed a funeral home to move in.”
However, the DOB said that the owner of the building could have gotten that specific part of the violations dismissed — if they had appeared at any of their Environmental Control Board hearings. According to a DOB spokesperson, the owner did not appear at their ECB hearings, and automatically defaulted on the violations.
Amen claims she was at all court dates. “I’m a funeral business,” she said. “I want to make sure all my permits are up to date. That’s how you run a business! I’ve been here since 1989 and nothing like this has ever come up.”
To make matters worse, Amen’s lawyer Charles Petitto was disbarred during the process after she paid him $7,645 to fight the violation.
An upstairs tenant and his ‘prostitute problem’
Marilyn Faraci has been working with Amen at the funeral home for 22 years. In addition, she is a tenant who lives in an apartment above the funeral home.
Faraci used to share that apartment with Vaughn Carter, a now former renter who she believes was looking to get Amen in trouble.
According to Amen, Carter had been presented with a 30-day notice to vacate because he was four months in arrears.
“It wasn’t just the money. He was not a good tenant, and he would threaten us,” Faraci explained. “He’d tell me, ‘someday, I’m going to own this building, and you’re going to be paying me the rent’.”
Both Amen and Faraci believe that Carter was behind many phone calls to the DOB to bring inspectors in the building. According to Amen, the former tenant broke the lock of her office to let in the inspector while a woman was making plans in the funeral parlor to bury her husband.
Faraci feared for her safety while Carter was a tenant in the building. “I was a nervous wreck. His room was next to mine. He was bringing prostitutes upstairs to have sex with him,” she said. “Friday night was sex night. I had to sleep with earplugs in.”
After the tenant left, Amen entered the premises to see the place had been “maliciously destroyed,” she said. Graffiti adorned the walls with abusive messages to the landlord.
In our conversation, Amen explained that her role as property owner provided her with no ability to inspect the condition of the apartment while the tenant was still occupying the unit.
She said that she immediately hired Axonal Design Architects to redo alterations and fix the damage done by the tenant. Carter had illegally sealed a door within the apartment.
Both the alterations by the tenant and the repair of those alterations became fodder for even more violations.
A DOB spokesperson explained that the building owner did hire a professional engineer to file a permit application for the work through their professional certification program on March 10, 2016.
“Although the permit application was submitted, along with a filing fee of $275.30, the engineer never pulled the necessary permits, which are required prior to the start of any construction work,” the spokesperson said. “In addition, the owner has not filed a certificate of correction for the violations, nor provided the Department with any evidence that they have corrected the illegal work.”
What began as a typo in a Certificate of Occupancy has ballooned into 13 violations. For Amen, she simply wants to get back to work.
On Wednesday, the funeral home held a service for a man who worked for UPS. Hundreds were in attendance. Hoping to break the ice during her eulogy, Amen asked, “Is anyone in Brooklyn getting deliveries today?”
For a moment, the mourners were able to laugh.
A change.org petition has been established to assist Doris Amen and the Jurek-Park Slope Funeral Home.