Former employee says Chicago tombstone company ignored grieving families – NBC Chicago

Dozens of grieving families still waiting for grave markers or refunds from a Chicago monument company.

NBC 5 Responds has learned Gast Monuments is now also facing legal action for a $220,000 grave monument order from 2018, that was allegedly never created or delivered.

“I couldn’t do anything about it”

Now a former Gast employee is breaking his silence to shed light on what he says was a pattern of ignoring consumer complaints and not filling orders, which he witnessed firsthand.

“In that business, you work with families who are going through a lot… a lot of emotions, a lot of grief. It was hard for me to see this. When I worked there, I couldn’t do anything about it just because I needed that job,” said the former employee who worked as a designer for the company for about a year before quitting in 2021. He asked us to conceal his identity out of fear of retribution.

Earlier this month, an NBC 5 Responds investigation found dozens of Chicago-area families have been waiting months, even years to receive their deceased loved ones’ grave markers from the company.

That includes Kris Greene of Deerfield, who has been waiting 18 months for Gast to deliver her father’s grave marker.

“No one should go through this during such a traumatic moment in their life,” said Greene, who ended up ordering a monument from another company.

Refunds promised; not delivered

She and several other Gast customers NBC 5 Responds spoke have been requesting refunds from the company for months, without any luck. In early July, Gast told NBC 5 Responds via email that she would be “happy to refund [Greene’s order] if they did indeed order elsewhere”.

But on Aug. 29, Gast’s attorney claimed, “Gast has made no commitments to refund any monies to … the Greene family…”. Gast did not respond to our specific questions about the refund status’ for several families who either never received their orders, or ended up ordering monuments from other companies.

“If an aggrieved family affected by the Catholic Cemetery delivery delay ordered a memorial to be produced by Gast and ordered another memorial from a different producer, Gast did/does provide a refund when the other provider’s memorial was/is already produced,” said Vince DiTommaso, attorney for Katie Gast, in an email statement to NBC 5 Responds.

 “I think she’s just taking all of these families for a ride, just taking their money,” said Greene.

“I couldn’t be a part of that situation anymore”

“I wanted to reach out and say like, what you’re saying isn’t a lie. This is coming from someone who saw it from behind the scenes,” said the employee, who agreed to speak with NBC after seeing several families were voicing their frustrations online.  “I had so much stress. I had so much anger,  so much emotion coming back from work. And my wife saw it, my coworkers saw it. I couldn’t be part of that situation anymore.”

The former employee says on a daily basis, he would field calls from grieving families asking about their orders, and watch as company owner, Katie Gast, actively avoided and ignored them. 

“Family comes inquiring about a refund. It’s not like, ‘Okay, how do we make this better? [Gast was] like, ‘Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen’. Like, no care,” said the former Gast employee.

Gast denied that claim in a statement made through her attorney.

“The allegations that Katie Gast in any way lacked empathy for or laughed at customers are untrue and inconsistent with reality,” said DiTommaso in an email statement to NBC 5 Responds. “Due to her infant child having medical complications, Katie Gast spent little time at the Gast offices. Katie Gast had limited face-to-face interactions with few people except family members.”

The employee says during his time at Gast, he also saw inconsistencies regarding payments.

When you buy a grave marker from Gast, you pay a ‘setting fee’ for the cemetery up front.

But the employee says, during his time at Gast, many of those fees weren’t being passed along to the cemeteries. Earlier this month the archdiocese of Chicago confirmed Gast monuments owed them $22,000 in setting fees.

The employee says he began advising customers to pay the cemeteries directly instead of trusting Gast to pass the money along. 

“That’s when I’m like, ‘You’re never gonna see [that money] again. That’s gone. Once it’s out of your hands, it’s gone’,” said the employee.

Gast previously told NBC 5 Responds the Archdiocese kept changing their payment rules in an effort to put her out of business. Gast stated she did not owe the Archdiocese money, only monuments slated for delivery.

“It’s not always changing of the rules, so much as bending them depending on the person on the other end,” said Gast via email.

The Archdiocese responded by saying they hadn’t changed anything about their process.

”There’s other cemeteries besides us that she’s having issues with,” said Ted Ratajcyk, Executive Director with Catholic Cemeteries.

A lawsuit over a $200,000 order that never materialized

Chicago’s Graceland cemetery is mentioned in a new civil lawsuit against Gast. NBC 5 Responds was in court this week to hear the largest claim against the company to date.

A recently filed civil lawsuit alleges Gast was paid nearly $200,000 for three granite monuments to be installed in Chicago’s Graceland cemetery in 2018.

According to the lawsuit Gast never paid the supplier, and five years later, there’s nothing to show for all that money.

Gast did not respond to our requests for comment regarding the lawsuit.

But it was a large order, the former employee remembers well.

“That might be one of the longest ones that haven’t processed. From seeing the trends after six months being there, I’m like, ‘He paid a lot of money. He’s asking for this. I don’t think he’s gonna get it’,” said the former employee.

Meantime, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s consumer fraud division confirms they are investigating claims against Gast.

It all became too much, the employee says, when Gast began having payroll issues and his paychecks were late.

“We live check by check in my household so I mean, it’s needed. We were promised getting paid bi-weekly,” said the employee.

Gast replied through her attorney, saying, “Gast employees were timely paid for all time spent on the job. Employees received physical paychecks for their respective pay periods. If an employee were physically absent from work, the employee would not be handed their paycheck on the respective pay day. Gast retains copies of all Humes check stubs in his personnel file.”

It was the last straw for the new father, who quit the company in 2021. He says he left the company as soon as he was able to find another job.

“There was a lot of a couple people behind the scenes that worked at Gast that were always heartbroken after taking your calls. Really felt for you, your family. And we’re sorry that we couldn’t speak up,” said the employee.

After our initial investigation, Gast resigned her role as president of the Monument Builders of North America association.

“Ms. Gast elected to step down from her unpaid voluntary position with MBNA. Instead, Ms. Gast wishes to focus her efforts on her clients, matters at hand and family. In addition to her business commitments, services, and obligations, she is a single mother of a 3-plus year-old child,” DiTommaso said in an email.

The civil court case against Gast continues with another hearing next month.

If you are having an issues with Gast Monuments, you are advised to contact newly-designed help line for assistance, at 847-868-4230 via text or phone.