St. Demetrios in Jamaica’s Possible Tax, Code Violations

Author: Theodore Kalmoukos
Date Published: 09/15/2012
Publication: The National Herald
The Parsons Discount Store owned by the St. Demetrios parish which, is at the center of the problems facing the Church. TNH/COSTAS BEJ
The Parsons Discount Store owned by the St. Demetrios parish which, is at the center of the problems facing the Church. TNH/COSTAS BEJ
The historic St. Demetrios Church in Jamaica, the house of worship of the community, which according to an internal audit appears to be in deep crisis. TNH/COSTAS BEJ
The historic St. Demetrios Church in Jamaica, the house of worship of the community, which according to an internal audit appears to be in deep crisis. TNH/COSTAS BEJ

Conflicting Audit Reports Spark Gen. Assembly Donnybrook

JAMAICA – St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox parish in Jamaica seems to be in trouble for not paying taxes on a discount store it owns and also for violating building codes.

The news was first published by the New York Post on September 10th. TNH has learned that the Attorney’s General Office is conducting its own investigation into the Church’s properties and business.

The New York City Buildings Authority has alerted the parish about building violations many times, as documents obtained by TNH and the Church’s own audit report indicate. The parish probably owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IRS and to New York City.

Parish Council President Fay Pappas and Bishop Andonios of Phasiane, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who is fully aware of the situation, have not responded to TNH’s request for comment. Presiding Priest Konstantinos Kalogridis said that “what we do as a parish we do it with responsibility and clean conscience. We are doing very well as a parish. I have nothing else to say, I am going to do an Agiasmo at the school.” Kalogridis promised resume the conversation with TNH after the Agiasmos service but never did.

The crisis came to a boil at the August 26 General Assembly, where screaming and yelling and even spitting took place, Assembly members told TNH. The Audit Committee comprised of Chris Andreas, Helga Gadjis, and Spero Manas had been elected last year to conduct an audit. The Committee, however, was split in two: Manas went on his own and Andreas and Gadjis worked together. Andreas is a former IBM executive. He has dealt extensively with issues of ecclesiastical administration and he has worked for the Archdiocese.

Various Assembly members attempted to prevent Andreas from presenting his report. Strong reactions were raised and words were exchanged in Kalogridis’ presence.

Andreas and Gajdjis reported that “the rent for the Parsons Discount Store [owned by the parish] is going directly into the General Account. We have found through public records that no real estate taxes are being paid for the Parsons Discount Store, which is still registered as a Religious School. This has been going on for well over seven years, perhaps over ten if we include the private school from the year 2001. Violations are also cited on public records – several are unpaid. No valid Certificate of Occupancy exists. It has yet to be confirmed as to how building is registered on the insurance policy. All of this will have serious legal and financial ramifications for the Church.”

The audit report stated also that “public records indicate that the boilers at 83-12 (14) Parsons Blvd., which houses tenants and the Senior Citizens Center, were initially installed improperly without a permit, are currently illegal, defective, and unsafe. There are ten outstanding violations, and in the event of a significant loss, the effect of the above upon our property and liability insurance could prove to be disastrous.

“Public records indicate that there has been a longstanding concern regarding the boiler in the Church basement. The last two inspections dated 09/14/2010 and 10/12/2011 indicate that defects exist.”

The auditors spotted strange things going on concerning the service contracting. They wrote that “as we believe it to be inappropriate that all contract bidding and fulfillment on all capitalization and maintenance work be left to only one parish council member, it is recommended that a full committee be established to oversee the entire process. It is furthermore recommended that members of this committee not be gathered exclusively from the Parish Council but also include members of the general community.”

Concerning the insurance claims, the auditors wrote that “as we believe it to be inappropriate for only one person to be involved with insurance companies during the action of placing a claim while also being allowed to receive payment directly in his or her name for that claim, it is recommended that Saint. Demetrios Church, the actual claimant, be paid directly for any and all insurance claims, and that a full detailed accounting of all payments be reported to the General Assembly.”

TNH has learned that the Con Edison is suing the Senior Citizens Center.

Members of the parish have notified the Archdiocese in writing and more specifically Archbishop Demetrios and Andonios, but nothing was done.

Pandemonium erupted during the August 26 meeting when Pappas, who also assumed the chairmanship of the Assembly, announced that no questions would be asked. Andreas was the target of verbal attacks by Parish Council members that aligned with Pappas. He was called a liar and another member of the parish was called a communist.

At some point during the assembly meeting retired Parish Council Member Judge Harriet George asked to see the settlement reached with Great America Insurance company, as she found the settlement of well over $700,000 peculiar in relation to the amount of work was done for repairs from damage caused by Hurricane Irene. The work was done by a company that belongs to a Parish Council member.

Judge George made her feelings known to Andonios and Kalogridis. She was ignored by Andonios and Kalogridis told her that “the gym looks great, so what’s the problem?” In protest, she submitted her resignation from the Parish Council.

TNH has learned that Great American Insurance Company is currently conducting an investigation.

TNH attempted to contact George, but she is in Greece. Manas told TNH that “I do not want to discuss the issue, call president Pappas.” When TNH asked Parish Council Treasurer Peter Spelios about the taxes, he said “what taxes?” He refused to acknowledge that he verbally attacked Andreas during the August 26 meeting and concluded that “the Church is just fine.”

Andreas said “we probably did the most thorough audit that Church has ever seen in its history. There were three of us who worked together; we saw that there were certain problems; we had a split decision of as to how much should be divulged to the community, the two of us demanded that truth be out in the open; there are two signatures on the report – mine and Helga Gajdjis’, a wonderful person.”

Andreas called the behavior of President Pappas “terrible.” He said “she didn’t allow us to talk; it was a difficult ordeal on the morning of August 26, very bad. I was accused of being a liar; a troublemaker; I was cursed at and more; it is so bad I don’t even want to mention them.”

Regarding the taxes owed, he said “if the city pushes it I believe it is going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, plus any penalties and interest if they assess that, and I am very worried for the Church.”