Harnett Devotional Gardens cemetery is in the state’s receivership after its former owner failed to reimburse funds missing from “multiple trust accounts,” according to the North Carolina Cemetery Commission.
A “total deficit of $135,063” was missing from Harnett Devotional Gardens’ accounts, according to an inspection report submitted to the commission on October 21, 2020.
Lenual Primus, who owned the cemetery at the time, was ordered to repay the accounts by October 31, 2020.
The cemetery fell into receivership when he failed to meet the deadline.
Receivership means “basically, the government has stepped in to remove the owner from power. He is no longer there,” said Heather Kiely, of the North Carolina Cemetery Commission. “We are doing inspections and audits to try to understand the extent of the issues going on so we probably won’t know for a little bit longer because I think we have some other stuff coming up with them, but hopefully by our next meeting … we will have a better understanding of what all is going on.”
Multiple attempts to reach Primus were unsuccessful.
Primus purchased the cemetery in 2016 and the commission noted a “$1,600 deficiency in the opening closing trust fund” for the property before he took control of it, according to minutes from the board’s January 2016 meeting. Board members approved the “change of control pending the trust funds being reviewed and made whole.”
The cemetery isn’t mentioned in the commission’s minutes again until October 2019.
Primus was a member of the Cemetery Commission at that time.
An inspection “outlined financial shortfalls in the perpetual care, merchandise and opening and closing trust funds,” according to that month’s meeting minutes. “Lenual Primus, owner of Harnett, indicated he misunderstood the statute regarding how money should be placed in the perpetual care trust fund. He thought he had four years to deposit the funds in the (perpetual care) trust account.”
Commission President Bill Gaffney “clarified that as payments are made by his clients on a monthly basis, so should deposits be made into the PC (perpetual care) trust account on a monthly basis,” according to the minutes.
Primus agreed to pay “$1,800 per month for three years” (adding up to $64,800) to make the funds whole, the minutes stated.
In their April 15 meeting, the commissioners heard only one payment had been made to the accounts in the six months since their last meeting.
“Primus spoke on behalf of Harnett Devotional Gardens and explained to the commission that when they agreed on the payment amount, Harnett thought they could sustain these payment amounts,” according to the April minutes. “At this time, they are unable to do so and appealed to the commission for a lower payment amount.”
The payments were lowered to $600 a month for three months.
The next time the commission met in July, members noted he missed a payment.
Primus paid $1,800 on April 4, $600 on April 17 and $600 on June 30, according to the minutes.
“Primus stated he was under the impression the payment from 4/4/2020 (allocated to March 2020’s delinquent payment) would be applied to the month of April and this caused an unintended missed payment for the month of May. Mr. Primus apologized for the miscommunication and agreed to submit a $1,200 payment on Friday, July 17, 2020,” the July 15 minutes stated. The $600 a month payment plan was extended for another 90 days.
But things changed in October 2020 when the inspection found more than $135,000 missing.
Several family members complained about the many potholes in the cemetery’s lanes in 2018. Primus said he planned to repave the roads.
The potholes remain, but Primus is gone. He resigned from the Cemetery Commission after the October meeting.
The cemetery is still under investigation.
-Dunn Daily Record