ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. - A months-long investigation by the I-TEAM into fraud at a Atlantic Beach cemetery and funeral home has sparked an inquiry by a Florida senator into why it to took so long for the state office regulating the cemetery to act.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, said the Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has assured him personally that what's been happening at Beaches Memorial Park will stop.
The manager of Beaches Memorial Park and its sister company, First Coast Funeral Home, was arrested last Thursday on 16 charges, most resulting from taking money for services that were never provided.
Nader "John" Rayan, 35, 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 petit theft and one count of false verification of ownership to a recycler.
"I didn't do anything. It's not my business," Rayan told News4Jax as he was led away. "I don't have ... the ... knowledge or background that's required to run a cemetery."
Rayan's wife, Amanda, is the listed owner of the businesses. There's no word about whether she will also face charges.
John Rayan's charges came months after the I-TEAM began exposing what was happening at Beaches Memorial Park.
“It's shocking. It's embarrassing, and I'm just disappointed at how slow the government has responded,” Bean said. “I'm happy to say I think we've gotten their attention.”
Bean said the state office that regulates funeral homes and cemeteries has brought in resources to Jacksonville from other areas to help with the investigation.
“That's what this case warranted,” Bean said. “We have to do something better. It's embarrassing that it's taken so long. It's embarrassing that we haven't contacted some of the family members to let them know. That's painful. If it was my loved one, I would be upset and angry.”
According to the arrest affidavit, Rayan's grand theft charges result from several of the 70 cases the I-TEAM has reported over the last 11 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.
The improper storage of a body charge resulted from the decomposed remains of Burton Acker Jr. that were found in a broken refrigerator in the funeral home last week during a surprise inspection by state investigators.
Acker's body was turned over to the funeral home the first week of May. The man's daughter, who paid $2,760 to John Rayan, was repeatedly told that the body had been cremated.
"The suspect committed these offenses in a systematic manner with an ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud one or more persons or with intent to obtain property from one or more persons by false or fraudulent pretense, representations, or promise or willful misrepresentations of a future act," investigators wrote.
The arrest document also said John Rayan sold 44 pounds of scrap metal, including bronze grave markers, to Beaches Recycling Center last month for $35. 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.
Once Rayan left, the recycler did an internet search, found the I-TEAM reports and called police.
Prosecutors said at least two of the grave markers sold were provided to the cemetery by the Veterans Administration. According to the affidavit, "The markers are clearly the property of the U.S. Government and not to be sold for a profit at secondary metal recyclers."
This was not John Rayan's first arrest. News4Jax learned he was charged with impersonating a police officer in 2012 and domestic battery in both 2012 and 2013.
Because of the ongoing I-TEAM reports, the Florida Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services assigned a team of investigators to look into Beaches Memorial Park and First Coast Funeral Home.
Last week, after those investigators found decomposing remains in the non-working refrigerator, they ordered the cemetery and funeral home to stop doing new business.
According to their report, a hospital ID bracelet on the wrist of the remains showed the person died May 4.
Amanda Rayan told the inspector that the body had been delivered in its current state, even though the inspector noted in his report that the body had been transported to Rayan’s funeral home the day the person had died.
The way state statutes are written, the state can't shut down the cemetery and funeral home completely.
Bean said he'll work with the Legislature to change that.
Many of you have called the I-TEAM with concerns about existing pre-need contracts, or other services that have not yet been delivered by the business. You can call the state at 800-323-2627 to inquire about what happens now.
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