Perpetual Problems Persist

This photo was taken at Harnett Devotional Gardens in March 2021 when lawn maintenance was still an issue. DAILY RECORD PHOTO / EMILY WEAVER

By Robert Jordan and Emily Weaver
Dunn Daily Record

DUNN – One man paid $12,000 last August to have his wife interred in the mausoleum at Harnett Devotional Gardens and, one year later, the plaque is still missing.

He isn’t the only one who reportedly paid for services not provided at the cemetery.

And although the plaque remains missing, the mausoleum’s mold, leaky roof, rotting baseboards, saturated carpet and oozing tombs first reported in 2019, never left.

“The mausoleum is in terrible and unsafe condition,” David Whittenton reported in a complaint to the North Carolina Cemetery Commission on May 22, 2019. “I went to visit my parents on Mother’s Day 5-12-2019 who are entombed there. The smell of mold and stench were unbearable. I looked around and saw where the roof was leaking, the base boards around the floor were rotting and the door was not locked and appeared it couldn’t be.”

Former owner of Harnett Devotional Gardens, Lenual Primus, responded to the complaint on July 1, 2019.

In regards to the mausoleum ceiling leaking, “The water stains are from previous leaks prior to the new roof being installed approximately 6 years ago. Ceiling leaking is not a problem now. We plan to paint the ceiling in the coming months.”

Primus reported that a representative from Country Clean Inc. inspected the mausoleum on July 1, 2019, “indicating there was no mold and woodwork was dry.”

The baseboards were damaged from previous leaks, he said, adding they would be replaced.

“Rain, depending on the direction of the wind in thunderstorms, will blow in underneath the front doors and possible leakage through front glasses,” Primus wrote in 2019. “It is possible that (sic) are a couple of crypts with drain problems allowing rain water to run from roof drain into said crypt drains. We have reached out to Ingram Mausoleum Construction Co. to come and take a look at this for us.”

Whittenton responded with an addendum to his complaint on July 8, 2019.

“I personally visited the mausoleum on July 5, 2019 after a small rain shower came through our area on July 4, 2019. There was no water at the front doors but halfway through the mausoleum the water squished out of the carpet. The gnats were terrible inside and it still has the odor,” Whittenton wrote. “I don’t know where the water is coming from but this is terrible and as far as the mold anyone should be able to smell it.”

Inside the Harnett Devotional Gardens mausoleum on July 15, 2022. DAILY RECORD PHOTO / EMILY WEAVER

Three Years Later

The leak stains on the ceiling remain. The rotted floorboards and squishy carpet are still there. But a sump pump on the roof to draw water away is a new addition since 2019.

Harnett County Emergency Management officials have been looking into the environmental conditions in and around the mausoleum.

Emergency Management Coordinator Zach Shean says authorities he contacted advised him the fumes and leaks likely aren’t hazardous.

Family members of the interred say they still stink.

“I almost threw up. It’s bad,” said Crystal Barefoot who entered the mausoleum on Tuesday. “I couldn’t breathe in there …”

The moldy mausoleum is just one of many complaints people have logged in the past few years.

Water stains are seen July 15 on the ceiling inside the mausoleum at Harnett Devotional Gardens three years after a former owner said the stains were caused by an old leak and would be repainted. DAILY RECORD PHOTO / EMILY WEAVER

Perpetual loss

A perpetual care cemetery is supposed to keep accounts to provide for the continuous care of its inhabitants. But Devotional Gardens has been missing money for years.

A “total deficit of $135,063” was missing from Harnett Devotional Gardens’ trust fund accounts, according to an inspection report submitted to the North Carolina Cemetery Commission on Oct. 21, 2020.

Primus, who owned the cemetery at the time, was ordered to repay the accounts within 10 days. Harnett Devotional Gardens fell into receivership, putting the government in charge when he failed to meet the deadline.

A new buyer was supposed to remedy the trust fund deficiencies, according to North Carolina Cemetery Commission minutes of a meeting in July 2021.

The Daily Record reached out to Winn Graham, who serves on the Cemetery Commission through a government appointment, to see if the trust accounts were made whole with the purchase. He referred all questions and comments to the Cemetery Commission. Staff members at the commission could not be reached for comment before press time Thursday.

Ruth Thornquest represented the buyer at a meeting in January, according to the commission’s January minutes. She is listed as the chief operating officer of Faithful Heritage Holdings — the company that reportedly owns Devotional Gardens and more than 20 other cemeteries across the country.

Quentin Graciano was listed as president.

Repeated attempts to reach both Thornquest and Graciano were unsuccessful before deadline.

Baseboards are seen here inside the mausoleum at Harnett Devotional Gardens on July 15, 2022. DAILY RECORD PHOTO / EMILY WEAVER

Investigation continues

Suzanne Matthews heard about the cemetery’s issues when she was running for election to the Harnett County district attorney seat in 2020.

She was elected in November and asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the cemetery’s dealings more closely a few months later.

“On February 22, 2021, the SBI’s Financial Crimes Investigations Unit initiated an investigation after receiving a request from the Harnett County District Attorney,” said Anjanette Grube, SBI’s public information officer. “It was alleged that the owner of Harnett Devotional Gardens, a cemetery located in Dunn, NC, had falsely obtained and embezzled funds that belonged in trust accounts as required by the NC Cemetery Commission. The investigation remains ongoing.”

No charges have been made, yet.

What you can do

People, who have paid for services not rendered or for merchandise not delivered, can file consumer complaints with the Office of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s consumer protection division.

“We’ve only received two complaints, both this week,” said Nazneen Ahmed, press secretary for Stein’s office.

Complaints can be filed online at or by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM, a toll-free line if dialed within North Carolina, or 919-716-6000.

General consumer complaint forms can be filled out online and consumers are advised to provide supporting documents with their complaints to help the AG’s office respond more quickly. Make sure the documents are legible copies, not originals.

“When people file consumer complaints with our office, they should include any relevant financial records/contracts/payment information and communications with the business or seller,” Ahmed added.

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