Vanella's in Oceanside sold to development company

Family in legal dispute over funeral home's future


Vanella’s Funeral Chapel, a family-owned business in Oceanside since 1965, was sold to a development company earlier this month, nearly a year after one of its shareholders, who ran the home, was ousted by relatives.

“Family members decided to close Vanella’s Funeral Chapel,” Vincent J. Vanella III, a licensed funeral director who managed the business for about 35 years, told the Herald. “I thank all the families that have entrusted me with their loved ones, and I am saddened by the actions taken by my family.”

The Vanella Realty Corporation comprises a Manhattan funeral home dating back to 1918 and the chapel on Long Beach Road, which was recently sold to Basser-Kaufman Development Co., Inc., for nearly $3.5 million.

Vanella filed a complaint last year in Nassau County Supreme Court, which claimed that his sister, Linda Vanella, sought to gain influence over their “post 90-year-old” mother, Lita Vanella, a shareholder in the company, in order to gain control of the corporation’s assets, which are worth millions of dollars.

After Vincent was unable to make two monthly payments to his fellow shareholders — Lita and his aunt Carmen Vanella — due to the funeral home’s decreasing profits, Linda accused him of stealing money and mismanaging the business, according to the complaint. The court document states that it was the first time he had failed to make such payments in more than three decades of operating the funeral home.

At a meeting among Vincent, Linda, Lita and Carmen last July, the latter two voted him out as president, and fired him from running the Oceanside funeral home, the court document states. Linda replaced Vincent as president, and brought in Geraldine Vitale, Carmen’s daughter — another defendant in the lawsuit — to act as vice president. The two were believed to be running the daily operations of both funeral homes.

Next-door neighbors Vincent and Lita always had “a close and positive relationship,” the complaint states, until Linda “instigated a myriad of infighting against the Vanella family.”

“Defendant Linda Vanella [is] running the corporations ‘into the ground’ by depleting all of the assets of the corporation and allowing waste to occur to the corporations’ assets,” the complaint says, adding that Linda was believed to be “diverting monies for her own self-interest.”

Such accusations are false, according to David Peirez, a Garden City attorney who is representing Linda. He added that there is evidence that Vincent misused corporate funds, and that cash flow was so weak that the Vanellas owed the city of New York $200,000 in real estate taxes at one point.

“He has nothing but his bald, empty statement,” Peirez said of Vincent’s claims. “It’s kind of like the child tit-for-tat game. You call me bad, I call you bad.”

According to court documents, Vincent was scheduled to meet with Linda and the other shareholders last month to discuss the sale of the nearly 52,000-square-foot Oceanside property, which eventually sold for less than its appraised value of about $5.1 million.

The appraisal took place in September, and Peirez explained that the real estate market can change a great deal in eight months. “Nobody should ever think that an appraisal is the Bible,” he said. “The appraisal gives you a feeling and a sense. We believe that we sold the property at a very good value, [and] sold … to a reputable company.”

Peirez added that Vanella’s Funeral Chapel sold its preneed contracts — funeral plans bought ahead of time — to Towers Funeral Home down the street, and had notified its customers that Towers would fulfill them.

As for the New York City property, which is on Madison Street in Manhattan and is valued at $12 million to $14 million, according to court documents, Peirez said that Linda plans to also sell it, though it is not yet on the market as the legal dispute continues. Ultimately, he said, she wants to get out of the funeral business.

“I’m sick over this whole situation,” Vincent said. “…They’re doing construction on the building. I don’t even want to look at it.”