Cemetery manager's arrest brings some relief to heartbroken families
Arrest follows 3-month I-TEAM investigation into funeral home, cemetery
ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – The manager of First Coast Funeral Home and Beaches Memorial Park faced a judge Friday morning on 16 charges, most felonies resulting from taking thousands of dollars from grieving families for services that were never provided.
Nader "John" Rayan was ordered held on a $100,000 bond after he was read the charges: 11 counts of grand theft, one count of improper storage of a body, one count of fraud, one count of dealing with stolen property, one count of petit theft and one count of false verification of ownership to a recycler.
The judge ordered that before he posted bond, Rayan would have to prove that the money being used was obtained legally.
Families who have reported issues to the I-TEAM over the past three months expressed relief to hear Rayan was in jail.
Eddie Brown said his wife had to wait nearly three hours for her mother's burial because the cemetery had put the wrong vault in the ground.
"Thank you, Lord. I'm just so happy. It's been hard to grieve. It's been hard to focus," Brown said. "Nobody should do that to someone who is deceased. It's like reliving it all over again. There's no peace there."
Al Bourgeois said his family still hasn't found peace after paying Rayan $2,995 in January for a name plate to be placed on his mother's crypt. Seven months there, it's still not there.
"My wife called me and told me to get inside to watch the 5 o'clock news. I went 'Bingo, yes. Finally, there's a little bit of justice,'" Bourgeois said. "I don't know how (he) sleeps at night. He knows that he's doing wrong."
When the I-TEAM questioned Rayan while in handcuffs Thursday, he didn't acknowledge any responsibility.
"I didn't do anything. It's not my business," Rayan said. "I don't have a masters in business. I don't have, ah, the ... knowledge or background that's required to run a cemetery."
But on Rayan's Facebook page, which is public, he boasted to friends about graduating from St. Leo University in 2007 with a degree in business administration. Four years earlier, he posted he graduated from Florida State College at Jacksonville with a 3.8 GPA with a degree in business accounting and management.
Rayan's wife, Amanda, is the listed owner of the businesses. There was no word about whether she would also face charges.
According to the arrest affidavit, the grand theft charges result from several of the 70 cases that the I-TEAM has reported over the last 10 weeks, including thousands of dollars paid for grave markers that were never placed and thousands more paid for burial vaults when less expensive vaults were used.
The thefts detailed in the report totaled more than $13,000.
In the spring, the Northeast Florida Better Business Bureau gave Beaches Memorial Park a C rating. After receiving more complaints, the rating has been changed to an F.
Brown and Bourgeois, along with many of the other victims who have been part of the I-TEAM investigation said they want the state's help in getting their money back.
Many people have called the I-TEAM with concerns about existing pre-need contracts, or other services that have not yet been delivered by the business. Call the state at 800-323-2627 to inquire about what happens now.
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