I-TEAM: Former cemetery manager insists missing court was an accident

Grand theft suspect Nader Rayan says he's 'not a runner'

By Jennifer Waugh - The Morning Show anchor, I-Team reporter , Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects , Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Nader Rayan, the former manager of an Atlantic Beach cemetery and funeral home that the I-TEAM has been investigating, told bond agents who found him in the attic of his home last Friday that he didn't know he was supposed to be in court six months ago. 

His failure to show for court on April 10 led a judge to issue a bench warrant for his arrest. The bail bondswoman who posted Rayan’s $76,548 bond in 2016 has been looking for him ever since, and so has the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

“I was trying to get money for an attorney because the April 10 date was never announced in court, and I missed it, and I didn’t realize it until the day of,” Rayan said to the agents as he was being driven to jail.  

Rayan was supposed to appear for a pre-trial hearing ahead of his trial, which was scheduled to start the following week. He missed the trial as well. Each time Rayan has been ordered to appear in court, an attorney has represented him.  

Rayan is charged with 10 counts of grand theft, one count of schemes to defraud, one count of improper preservation of a human body, one count of dealing in stolen property, and one count of false verification of ownership to a secondary metals recycler. 

He was arrested in July 2016 after a series of I-TEAM stories uncovered more than 70 complaints against the businesses his wife owned: Beaches Memorial Park and First Coast Funeral Home in Atlantic Beach. 

Many of those complaints accused Nader, who goes by John, and his wife Amanda, of taking money for grave markers that were never provided by them and overcharging for services that had already been paid under a pre-existing contract.

After his 2016 arrest, Rayan hired a private attorney, who only represented him for a few weeks.  Rayan then hired another private attorney, but months later, was appointed a public defender.  

The I-TEAM learned that while Rayan was supposed to be in court in April, he was out of town celebrating spring break with his family.  

A tip led the original bail bondswoman and agents with Willing to Bond Bail Bonds to Rayan’s Arlington home six months after his missed court date. They found Rayan hiding in the attic.

He told agents, “I promise... I didn’t skip on purpose. I wouldn’t skip court.”  

He also said, “I wasn’t running, per se.”  

When asked why he was in the attic when agents kicked in his front door, Rayan responded, “I wouldn’t run if I saw y’all. I wouldn’t run. I’m not a runner.”  

EXTENDED VIDEO: Nader Rayan's conversation with bail bond agents in the car | Bail bond agents search home for Nader Rayan

Rayan told them that he had just arrived back in Jacksonville five days earlier. He said he had been in Maine working in construction and carpentry.  

“I was just trying to get money for an attorney.  I wasn’t trying to avoid it,” he told bail bond agents.

The bail bondswoman, who had to pay the court $66,542 when Rayan failed to appear, explained to him that she tried to find him to help him avoid his arrest on the new felony charge, but said no one in his family would give her any information.   

That bail bondswoman does not want to be named in the news story, but said she called Rayan's mother and father to let them know about court dates, but she said each time they told her, “We don’t know where he’s at. We haven’t seen him.”  

She said she received a similar response from Rayan’s wife, Amanda, when she visited his home with police.  

“I told her, 'Look, all we need him to do is turn himself in. I can rewrite the bond at that point because it hadn’t gone into judgment yet,' and she just let you hang,” she said to Rayan. “She was standing out in the front yard. I tried to come in the house to find out if you were there. She said she wouldn’t let me in the house. The policeman asked. I was nice; I was. I could have just busted the door down and went in, but I was being nice to her, because you have children."

Amanda Rayan was home, as were the couple’s three children, when Rayan was arrested months later. As the agents searched for him, Rayan's wife told them, “Go ask his momma,” when they asked about his whereabouts.  

The State Attorney’s Office confirmed it is now investigating whether Amanda Rayan will be charged with harboring a fugitive. She is currently out on bond for 44 counts of making false statements on vital statistics, one count of schemes to defraud and one count of criminal use of personal identification.  

She was arrested in September 2016 after investigators said they discovered several death certificates had been falsified by the funeral home she owned at the time. The state has since forced her to sell the businesses, which are now under new ownership.

The I-TEAM has discovered the home where Rayan was arrested is currently in foreclosure. 

However, the interior suggested the couple had been living a lavish lifestyle at one point. There were piles of clothes in nearly every room. Our cameras also spotted several TVs, a tanning bed, gym equipment and a master closet filled with shoes.  

Rayan has declared himself indigent and has been assigned a public defender. His next court date is Oct. 30.  

Use the interactive timeline below for a complete look at our I-TEAM investigation:

Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.