Cemetery manager accused of selling veterans' grave markers

Manager arrested after 3-month I-TEAM investigation into funeral home, cemetery

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

The manager of First Coast Funeral Home and its sister company, Beaches Memorial Park, sold 44 pounds of scrap metal last month, including two grave markers belonging to veterans, to Beaches Recycling Center, investigators said. 

Nader "John" Rayan was arrested Thursday on 16 charges, most felonies resulting from taking money for services that were never provided.

According to the state attorney's office, Rayan is charged with 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 petty theft and one count of false verification of ownership to a recycler.

The News4Jax I-TEAM, which has been investigating the funeral home and cemetery since May, spoke Friday to two employees at the Beaches Recycling Center. 

Michelle Perry and Dorothy Norton said Rayan walked in, acting strangely, and was selling two markers for veterans, plus several 2015 marker plates and a vase. 

"He was just very scared that day, not normal. It was shady," Perry said. 

Because Rayan seemed nervous, investigators said, the recycling manager asked for and received a signed letter on letterhead of Beaches Memorial Park advising he was the owner and authorized to sell the grave markers.

After Rayan left, the recycler did an internet search, found the I-TEAM reports and called police.

"(I) heard something about it,  so we looked you guys up on Channel 4 and we definitely feel like we needed to make a call because we didn't know if these people had markers," Norton said.

The arrest document for Rayan said he sold $35 worth of scrap metal to the recycling center. The federal government said it wasn't his property to sell. 

PHOTOS: Grave markers from Beaches Memorial recycled

For Marl Marsee's family, it's a painful wound that has been continuously reopened since his death in 2014. His daughter-in-law, Cindy Marsee, said she blames Rayan and his wife, Amanda, who is the listed owner of the businesses. 

"What took so long? I honestly wanted to know why he wasn't arrested when this first came to light and why his wife has not been arrest," Cindy Marsee said. 

Once her father-in-law -- a Navy veteran who served in World World II -- died, Cindy Marsee said, problems immediately started with the Rayans. She said his name was placed on a World War I memorial at the cemetery, not World War II. The family was told that there is nothing to fix that.

Marsee said her father-in-law wasn't cremated for five months until after his death and now they're worried they don't have his property remains.

"I have no faith that the ashes that they buried or whatever they buried, and the ones that we have in our home -- I have no faith at all now that these are my father-in-law's remains. None," Cindy Marsee said.

Cindy Marsee said she now plans to take the ashes to an independent third-party to see if they are in fact human remains and not dirt or something else.

The I-TEAM was also told Mel Marsee's marker contained mistakes when issued by the government and the Rayans were supposed to mail it back to the Department of Veterans Affairs since it wasn't their property, but did not. 

The recycling center told the I-TEAM that police will be by Monday to pick up the grave markers. 

Rayan was ordered held on a $100,000 bond by a judge Friday. 

The judge ordered that before he posted bond, Rayan would have to prove that the money being used was obtained legally.