Sale of troubled cemetery adds uncertainty for families waiting to bury loved ones

Judge denies reduced bond for manager of cemetery, funeral home

By Jennifer Waugh - The Morning Show anchor, I-Team reporter

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. - As the manager of First Coast Funeral Home and its sister company, Beaches Memorial Park, appeared in Duval County court for a bond hearing Thursday afternoon, his attorney announced that the businesses are being sold.

At the hearing, a judge denied Nader “John” Rayan’s request to reduce the amount of his $100,000 bond.

Rayan, 35, was arrested last week on 16 charges, most resulting from taking money for services that were never provided. He 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.

The pending sale of the businesses, which are owned by Rayan’s wife, Amanda, has added uncertainty for families who have waited months to find peace for their loved ones.

The News4Jax I-TEAM learned that the board overseeing the Florida Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services will hold an emergency meeting Friday to discuss what happens next to the business.

For months, the News4Jax I-TEAM has been exposing complaints from families who still have no markers for their loved ones’ graves and crypts. A local woman said she is having to postpone her father’s burial indefinitely.

“My dad’s got to sit on ice. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense,” Janet Demery said.

Demery said she has nightmares thinking about her father’s body in a refrigerator.

“We go through the process of getting things the funeral home needs. And then they’re going to put him on ice? That’s traumatizing,” Demery said.

Her father, Fulcher Bennett, died Monday and was supposed to be buried Saturday at Beaches Memorial Park. But since the manager has been arrested and the cemetery appears to be abandoned, his burial can’t happen.

The state office that regulates cemeteries has given Demery few options and the sale of the businesses has added uncertainty.

“Either we can bury him in another cemetery and have him exhumed and then bury him there when it gets resolved. I mean, it doesn’t make sense,” Demery said.

Janet Demery's parents

Especially since it was her father’s wish to be laid to rest next to his wife of 66 years, who was buried at Atlantic Beach cemetery; Demery’s parents paid ahead of time for their funeral arraignments and burial so that their children would not have to go through any heartache.

Demery has been told it could be a week or two before she can finally put her father where he belongs – next to his wife.

The I-TEAM expects to learn more about how much longer Demery and others will have to wait during the emergency meeting held via teleconference at 10 a.m. Friday.

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