Big fat Greek mess at St. Demetrios Church in Queens
It’s a big fat Greek mess.
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, like the one scheduled for today, 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.
Hirakis is in charge of maintenance at St. Demetrios, and his firm, NYTAS, was chosen — without a bidding process — to repair the gym/social hall floor and other damage the church claims it suffered during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
But longtime members say the church’s gym floor was worn before Irene and doubt the storm even damaged it. While Great American paid for the old floor to be removed, they question whether Hirakis just put a new floor on top of it. They also say a $40,000 payment to Hirakis, allegedly to rent another location while the gym was unusable, was bogus because the gym was closed for just days.
One of Hirakis’ companies received $564,450 from the Great American Insurance Co., according to a parishioner who saw the canceled checks. The church got another $100,000 from Great American.
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.
The church has not paid a dime of the $208,589 it owes in back taxes after improperly getting a charitable exemption for property it rents to a discount store on Parsons Boulevard. It also owes $10,800 in building-code violations for the property.
Upset parishioners say they appealed to Archbishop Demetrios, who heads the Greek Orthodox church in America. They say membership has dropped to some 130 families from 350 four years ago.
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.