‘Weeping Icon’ Fraud Charged

Author: Caryn Eve Murray and Curtis L. Taylor, Jackie Cooperman contributed to this story
Date Published: 07/16/1994
Publication: Newsday (New York)

An Astoria church whose loss of a jewel-clad “weeping icon” thrust it into the public eye more than two years ago is back in the spotlight, charged by its insurance company with fraud.

In denying the $ 1.2-million claim by St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Monastery, the Cigna Insurance Co. said the church produced fraudulent records of its original gift of the Greek icon in 1972 and all subsequent donations of jewelry from congregants. Cigna attorney Ira Greenhill said he has since referred the case to the fraud division of the state Insurance Department, as required by law. St. Irene’s claim resulted from reports of a Dec. 23, 1991, theft in which armed bandits took the palm-sized wooden figure from the church. It was later returned by mail – minus the gems that had been affixed to it. Despite a sweeping search and FBI involvement, no arrests were made and no gems were reported recovered.

The icon, which the faithful believe is capable of causing miraculous healing, has never been far from earthly rifts. The church at 36-07 23rd Ave. is already embroiled in a bitter controversy with the mainstream Greek Orthodox Archdiocese over which is the true Greek-American church. That spiritual rivalry produced an antidefamation lawsuit St. Irene’s filed against the mainstream denomination.

With that unrelated case pending, St. Irene’s now faces the additional court challenge from Cigna to prove the legitimacy and worth of its material loss.

This question of faith in record-keeping extends as far as the Queens district attorney’s office, which yesterday began a preliminary investigation following discussions with Cigna, said Jack Ryan, executive assistant district attorney in charge of the investigations unit.

But in a statement released yesterday, Bishop Vikentios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of North and South America, called Cigna’s charges of fakery “completely untrue. It is simply a negotiating tactic so the insurance company does not have to pay the money they owe under the insurance policy.” In addition to its $ 1.2-million claim, the church is suing Cigna for $ 3.6-million in punitive damages.

Greenhill, of Cigna, said the icon was insured under a general policy, worth more than $ 3 million, covering the buildings and other church properties.