Hiding behind the veil

Who really owns Harnett Devotional Gardens?

By ROBERT JORDAN
Of the Record staff
Posted 8/5/22

Questions regarding the actual ownership of Harnett Devotional Gardens cemetery, who is financially responsible for it and how to hold the responsible parties accountable remains the focus of the vast unknown at 5665 Fairground Road in Dunn.

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Hiding behind the veil

Who really owns Harnett Devotional Gardens?

Posted

Questions regarding the actual ownership of Harnett Devotional Gardens cemetery, who is financially responsible for it and how to hold the responsible parties accountable remains the focus of the vast unknown at 5665 Fairground Road in Dunn.

Devotional Gardens, once a beautifully landscaped and perpetually kept development for loved ones’ final resting place, has devolved into a weed infested and poorly maintained eyesore.

As the cemetery’s grave owners grow more concerned, most are finding that the ones responsible for the business are hiding behind a veil of incorporation and officials who should be in positions to assist the families are political appointees who seem to have little to no enforcement power.

Who owns and operates the cemetery?

According to Harnett County deed records, the real property (buildings and grounds) at Harnett Devotional Gardens are deeded to Primus Holdings Inc., of 1320 Stapleton Drive, Garner. This property was granted to Primus Holdings Inc. by Garden Associates LLC for the purchase price of $244,000 on Dec. 20, 2019. The presiding officer of Primus Holdings Inc. is Lenual S. Primus, of the same Garner address, according to the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

Primus Holdings Inc. is listed as an active business whose record is not current with the Secretary of State.

An assumed business name certificate was filed with the Harnett County Register of Deeds Office on Jan. 27, 2022. In this document, the assumed name of Harnett Devotional Gardens listed the real name of the person or entity engaging in business under the assumed name as Faithful Heritage Holdings Inc. of 2615 NE 17th Terrace, Gainesville, Florida. That certificate was signed by Ruth Thornquest, chief operating officer of Faithful Heritage Holdings.

Faithful Heritage Holdings Inc. is a North Carolina corporation whose registered office is located at 160 Mine Lake Court, Suite 200, Raleigh. The corporation’s principal office is located at 2615 NE 17th Terrace, Gainesville, Florida. The president of the corporation is listed as Quentin Graciano, of Gainesville. Faithful Heritage Holdings’ status with the NC Secretary of State is listed as current and active.

The Daily Record made numerous attempts to speak with Primus, Graciano and Thornquest. None of these three individuals have returned calls or emails.

Who can be contacted for action?

Domini Ennis Pearce, of Dunn, contacted The Daily Record reporting her attendance at the July 2022 meeting of the North Carolina Cemetery Commission. Upon hearing her concerns, she explained that members of the commission told her she would probably be better served if she contacted the Office of the North Carolina Attorney General. Pearce did just that.

In her written complaint to the Attorney General, Pierce states she paid $2,114.57 for a memorial marker purchased as a pre-need item. She made a down payment of $215.57 to the cemetery’s then-owner, Lenual S. Primus on April 20, 2017. She then made monthly payments of $52.75 to Harnett Devotional Gardens and received receipts from the cemetery office after each payment. In August 2020, Pearce says she completed paying for the marker and as of July 20, 2022, no memorial marker has been installed.

Pearce states in her complaint that she has met with the NC Cemetery Commission at three separate meetings with no assistance received from the commission. She has been interviewed by phone with an agent of the NC State Bureau of Investigation.

“I believe that there is fraudulent activity in this situation and I am certain that I am not the only person negatively effected (sic) by this situation,” Pearce writes in her complaint.

Mike Barefoot, of Garner, also filed a complaint with the Attorney General. He complains of paying Harnett Devotional Gardens $1,110.73 after the cemetery increased the price of a memorial marker for his father’s grave from an original quote of nearly $400. The initial purchase date was March 14, 2022. The marker has yet to be installed, he wrote in his complaint. Barefoot also complains of unrepaired “sinkholes” and numerous “unfulfilled promises” by the cemetery office to remedy the problems. To remedy his complaint he said, “I would like my Dad’s grave site properly filled, the marker attached and the grounds properly maintained.”

One family’s decision

Deborah Cousins, 70, of Erwin lost her husband, Ezekiel, on May 19. A generous friend gifted Cousins three plots at Harnett Devotional Gardens, and her husband was laid to rest on May 28.

“A friend of my husband called and offered to give me three plots there because she wasn’t going to use them. We went to the cemetery office to complete the paperwork for the transfer and that was a whole big mess,” said Cousins.

She went on to explain that no one in the office at the cemetery knew how to complete the transfer paperwork. She says that someone had to travel from Florida to complete the appropriate forms.

When asked about the condition of the grounds in May prior to her husband’s interment, Cousins said, “All I know is potholes in the road were there. As far as looking at the grounds, I had never been there before, so I didn’t know what to be looking for. The little area he was going to go in ... it was unkempt.”

She went on to say, “I didn’t know anything about how cemeteries are kept. I knew they were supposed to upkeep the cemeteries, but I didn’t see anyone working out there.”

“When I read that families were having to go out there to cut their own loved ones’ grass and weed whack and fill in holes and all that stuff, I panicked. I knew I couldn’t do all that stuff. I’m 70 years old,” she said. “When I go and my daughter goes, who’s going to do it for us?”

“I wanted my husband to be laying at rest where they are going to maintain the cemetery. When I read in the newspaper and heard all of the complaints, none of that was ever disclosed to me, or I never would have put him there in the first place.”

Cousins made the decision to disinter her husband’s remains and move them to Resthaven Cemetery, a facility owned and maintained by the city of Dunn. She said she was shocked to learn of the cost differences between the two cemeteries. Harnett Devotional Gardens charged Cousins $1,795 to open the grave for her husband’s burial in May. On Wednesday, they charged her $2,500 to reopen the grave for her husband’s disinterment.

Conversely, the city of Dunn charged her $700 to open the grave at Resthaven so her husband could be moved.

“When I went in to pay them,” shared Cousins, “I wanted to know what services they were going to provide for $2,500. What was that going to include? At first they said, ‘Oh we have to get him out and then transfer him to the other cemetery.’ I said, ‘No Ma’am. Mr. Dafford’s staff are doing that.’”

Cousins explained that the staff at the cemetery office then called the offices in Florida. After the phone call, the staff explained that sometimes there wasn’t enough staff from the funeral home to handle the exhumation, and cemetery staff had to assist.

“I asked them why they charged me $1,795 in May and two months later it’s $2,500. They told me all cemeteries charge the same price,” she said. “They only charged me $700 at Resthaven for the same service.”

“They’re just greedy for money and that’s my story. People are grieving and you’re trying to rob them,” Cousins emphasized.

In the end, all of this anxiety cost Cousins over $7,000 to satisfy her desire for her husband’s remains to rest in a place provided with perpetual care.

The saga continues. Follow mydailyrecord.com for more updates on Harnett Devotional Gardens.

Robert Jordan can be reached at rjordan@mydailyrecord.com or 910-230-2037.

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