Former Sitka priest admits to fraud

Date Published: 12/06/2002

Anchorage: A former Russian Orthodox priest has pleaded guilty to mail fraud for embezzling money from his Sitka parish.

Eugene Bourdukofsky left St. Michael’s Cathedral in 1997. The embezzlement wasn’t reported to the FBI until last year.

Last week, Bourdukofsky pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of mail fraud. According to the plea agreement, he embezzled about $70,000 from a tourism account at St. Michael’s for his and his family’s use.

Bourdukofsky, 53, is scheduled to be sentenced in February. The plea agreement with federal prosecutors recommends that he serve eight to 14 months in prison and that he pay restitution.

According to court documents, the scheme began in January 1994.

Bourdukofsky became priest of the cathedral in 1974. It was the first Russian Orthodox church built in Alaska, originally erected in 1848, and is a frequent stop for cruise ship tourists.

The church had an arrangement with a Sitka tour company. Sitka Tours, then Prewitt Enterprises, sold entry tickets to cruise ship tourists to visit the church. That money was deposited in a tourism account, kept separate from an account that held congregation contributions.

As priest, Bourdukofsky managed the account, which collected money from cruise ship entry tickets, gift shop sales and donations from other visitors. That account began in the late 1970s or early 1980s but probably didn’t make much money until the cruise ship business boomed, said Mary Beth Kepner, FBI senior resident agent in Juneau.

The account made $162,000 in 1994, $194,000 the next year and $105,000 in 1997.

In return for managing the account, Bourdukofsky was paid either 10 or 20 percent of the money from the tourism account.

But between January 1994 and September 1997, the indictment alleges, Bourdukofsky manipulated the account in several ways. He wrote checks to himself directly out of the tourism account, paid personal credit card bills from the account, wrote checks to his children directly from the account and wrote checks to other people for personal items or for the benefit of his family.

“It wasn’t like he was taking a few thousand extra each year,” told the Anchorage Daily News. “He was taking substantially more than he would have been allowed.”

The church apparently discovered the embezzlement and removed Bourdukofsky from St. Michael’s in October 1997. But Bishop Nikolai, bishop of Alaska, said he wasn’t aware there was an investigation internally.

Federal authorities said the church reported the embezzlement to the FBI in 2001. Bishop Nikolai, who arrived in Alaska in June 2001, said it was reported by someone associated with the church.