$227,000 in Back Taxes Owed by St. Demetrios

Author: Theodore Kalmoukos
Date Published: 03/21/2013
Publication: The National Herald
  The New York Post now describes the of once-proud parish of St. Demetrios of Jamaica as a
The New York Post now describes the of once-proud parish of St. Demetrios of Jamaica as a "big fat Greek mess."

JAMAICA – The amount of $227,459.88 for outstanding property taxes must be paid by the parish of St. Demetrios in Jamaica. The due date is April 1, according to the NYC Finance Department’s statements, copies of which were obtained by TNH. If the parish does not wish to pay the total amount due, then a partial payment of $189,465.44 must be made.

It is a case of outstanding real estate property tax, going back to 2006, according to the existing, detailed city statements in reference to one particular parish building, which functioned as a Religious School until 1998 and after its closing was rented first as a Day Care Center and currently Parson’s Discount Store.

Parish Council President Faye Pappas did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.

The parish has named Greek-American attorney Kerry Katsorhis as its legal counsel in order to reach an agreement with the city to pay its outstanding property taxes in monthly installments. Katsorhis told TNH that “we must enter into a payment plan agreement with the city’s Taxation Department in order to pay the taxes.”

Katsorhis said that “we must remember that the Church possesses various buildings, one of which is the actual church building and which is exempt from taxation, other buildings which were also tax-exempt should not have been because they produce income. The city came and said that this building cannot have a tax exempt status, therefore you owe us this much money, going back to the years when these buildings produced income and the tax exemption could not be applied.” The parish did not pay the taxes all these years because “it received statements with zero due and only recently came a statement asking for the money.”

Last September, TNH had reported extensively on the tax issue as it had been ascertained from the financial audit performed in the parish by auditors Chris Andreas and Helga Gadjis, which had forewarned the community in a timely manner. The auditors had written that “the rent from the store goes directly to the general account. We found through the public website that the property tax has not been paid for the store Parsons, which still is listed as a Religious school, and this is has been happening for more than seven years. Also, there are violations and penalties, many of which have not been paid. There is no Certificate of Occupancy. It remains to be verified how the building is listed for insurance purposes. All these issues could have serious legal and financial burdens for the Church.” Also, the audit report requested a detailed audit for the iconography account “due to great amount of funds.”

This audit report was given in the general assembly on August 26, but parish officials have done nothing about it, as reflected in the General assembly Minutes of November 18, in which they stated that there was no problem.

Specifically, Pappas said in her report that “the 99-Cent store tenant has a triple net lease, so they were and are responsible for all the expenses of that building including all property taxes. Prior to July 2012, the amount of property taxes due was $0. The Church did not owe any taxes on the 99-Cent store. As of this July 2012, there is now $36,000 per year in property taxes going forward $3,000 per month. The Church voluntarily subsidizes 33% of the property taxes for the 99-Cent store tenant, in order not to lose the tenant.

Therefore, the Church contributes $1,000 per month and the tenant $2,000 per month towards the property taxes. The tenant remits $10,000 total per month to the Church: $8,000 rent and $2,000 taxes.”

The Parish Council has not been sworn in yet because the Archdiocese has not ratified the election since the parish has not fulfilled its total annual financial contribution.

The Archdiocese is fully aware of the situation at St. Demetrios. Sources told TNH that an atmosphere of fear has been created, which is being cultivated by people who have been in key positions in the parish for very many years, in order to keep information from reaching the press, thereby attempting to stop the greater Greek-American Community from finding out what takes place there.{60023}

At the general assembly meeting on March 17, it was mentioned that the parish is thinking of obtaining a loan using, perhaps using real estate property as collateral, in order to pay the back taxes. The idea of getting into an installments plan doesn’t seem to work because the city is asking for 18% interest, which is similar to the amount that most credit cards charge.

It was said by Parish Council officials that the parish does not have the money to fulfill its obligation towards the property tax or for its general operations. A special assembly will be called in the near future to discuss the finances and the possibility of obtaining a loan. The annual dues were increased from $350 to $500. It was said that 170 members have paid their annual contribution thus far.

According to a financial audit report presented by the ex-president of the parish council Peter Coufos to the general assembly, $1,545,557 was collected from 2005 to 2012 for the Church’s iconography. TNH has obtained copies of the report. The sum of $380, 054 had come from the insurance company because it was reported that the icon of the Mother of God known as Platytera in the Holy Altar had been damaged by strong rains.

According to the report, more than $300,000 were transferred from the exclusive iconography account to other parish accounts. No explanation was given at the general assembly.

On March 17, the New York Post published a revealing article about the parish under the title “Big Fat Greek Mess at St. Demetrios Church in Queens”, excerpts of which follow:

“The once-proud St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Jamaica, Queens, has been rocked by allegations of self-dealing, dubious insurance claims and missing cash.

A parish council member is a convicted felon; Queens prosecutors are probing if a sinner stole money meant for paintings of saints; the church has failed to pay $208,000 in city taxes; and a church lawyer once faced a record-breaking city ethics fine.

Quarterly meetings have devolved into shouting matches, with curses hurled at elderly members. One church official spit at a parishioner who tried to present an audit report.

‘This is atrocious,’ said Eugenia Katsoudas, 46, who has been a church member since she was 11. ‘It’s deplorable what I’ve seen.’

“Longtime parishioners blame the problems on church management – including president Faye Pappas and former president Peter Hirakis.

“Hirakis, 52, who lives in a $1.3 million house in tony Old Westbury, LI, was convicted of felony insurance fraud in 1991, according to court documents.

“He was accused of staging phony car accidents for insurance payouts. He was also charged in 1993 with stealing pay phones belonging to a competitor, for which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in that case.

Meanwhile, parishioners question where the money went from the church’s collection of more than $1 million for “icons,” paintings of saints for the internal walls. A cash reserve was to be put aside for future icon maintenance, but a 2009 in-house audit showed some money was used for other projects.

“The Queens District Attorney’s Office is probing the icon fund, according to members who have spoken to the investigator. The DA’s Office declined to comment.

Church lawyer Kerry Katsorhis said St. Demetrios was “making arrangements” to pay the taxes and said it was unaware of the DA’s probe into the icon fund. He said he had “no idea” how much was in the fund.

“He called Hirakis an “outstanding parishioner” who saved the church money for repairs by doing some work at cost.

‘Katsorhis, a former city sheriff, was fined $84,000 in 1998 for numerous ethics violations including practicing law from his government office.”