St. Spyridon’s Out-of-Control Finances: TNH Report

St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church. Photo: TNH/Costas Bej

NEW YORK – When in October, 2015 The National Herald revealed the sexual scandal of the then-priest George Passias of the St. Spyridon parish in Upper Manhattan’s neighborhood Washington Heights, with his assistant and spiritual daughter Ethel Bouzalas, which led to his defrocking from the holy priesthood, a number of questions were raised about the parish’s finances.

Now, TNH revels a preliminary audit report dated May 19, 2017, which shows that the financial issues of that historic parish were out of control and certainly detrimental to it.

Many serious questions are raised about transparency in general, and specifically about the role of the Alma Realty management company owned by businessman and philanthropist Steve Valiotis.

At press time, Archbishop Demetrios, Archdiocese employee Jerry Dimitriou – who until recently was in charge of the Archdiocese’s finances – and St. Spyridon Parish Council President Lydia Vagelos-Kallimanis had not responded to TNH’s requests for comment.

Valiotis told TNH: “I cannot talk to you, what can I tell you, these people are crazy. I went up there and I saved their buildings.”

At the same time he insisted that he doesn’t have the report. (The entire discussion of TNH with Valiotis appears at the end of this article.)

Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, responding from the Ionian Village in Greece, told TNH that “you are talking to the wrong person because I left from St. Spyridon more than a year ago.” When we told him that he told the auditors – it is in the report – that Passias took boxes with documents, he said “I am at the camp in Greece, I have to see my notes which are at the Archdiocese in New York, I am sorry that I can’t help.”

Archdiocesan Chancellor Bishop Andonios of Phasiane told TNH that “we are not going to cover up” anything.

The Archdiocese assigned the matter of St. Spyridon to the Law firm Tarter, Krinsky & Drogin LLP, which hired Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, which specializes in financial audits.

From very beginning of the report is stated that “the bank statement analysis was limited to 2 years (2014 and 2015) rather than the three years from 2013 through 2015 that we recommended.” Also it is stated that “the review of the Parochial School and Universal Pre-K was not performed.”

Hundreds of thousands of records from the computer hard drives were deleted. On page 2 of the report is says that “in an effort to secure relevant records of financial information, we obtained forensic images of three computers that they were located at St. Spyridon. Two of those computers had dual hard drives for a total of five hard drives. Based on our forensic analysis of the hard drives, we determined that most of the user files on all the hard drives, including QuickBooks accounting files, were deleted. We were told by Fr. Evagoras that Steve Papadatos deleted the data on the hard drives. In total, there were only approximately 10,500files on the five hard drives. We were able to restore a significant number of deleted files. In total, we restored approximately 571,000 files that had been deleted giving us a total of 581,000 files. However many of the files were damaged and could not be opened (including the QuickBooks accounting files). Approximately 441,000 of the files were photos, video and internet related which would not be expected to contain financial information. That leaves 140,000 user files.”

On page 3 it is reported that “we could not locate vendor invoices to verify the validity the disbursements in our analysis. In fact during the course of our investigation, Father Evagoras explained to us that on the day George Passias left St. Spyridon, a local parishioner had seen many boxes removed from St. Spyridon Church and loaded onto a truck…We found very few relevant records at St. Spyridon for 2014 or 2015, the years in our approval scope of work.”

Regarding the rentals of the Church Hall, the auditors also wrote on page 3 that “Fr. Evagoras provided us with rental contracts for approximately 70 events that were scheduled to take place in 2014. These contracts provide for combined total rental fees and security deposits of $132,000. The contracts also indicated that $125,600 was received upon signing the contract, $2,600 was refunded and $8,300 was owed.The contracts indicated that $120,000of the 4125,600 received was paid in the form of cash and $5,000was paid by check. Since we did not have the deposit detail slips, we could not determine from our bank analysis described above, whether any of the $120,600 of cash deposited.”

On page 4 it states that “what is most concerning is that in earlier years, when Mr. Yuelys was responsible for the St. Spyridon accounting, there was regularly approximately $90,000 to 4100,000 in hall rental income recorded in the St. Spyridon general ledger. No such income was recorded in the years that we reviewed.”

On page 6, the report indicates that “we were advised by Bishop Andonios, that on or around the time that Ethel Bouzalas’employment was terminated, she directed a St. Spyridon employee to remove $30,000 in cash from a safe located in the office of the parochial school and give it to Bouzalas. We further understand that Bouzalas claimed that she had previously loaned $40,000 to the school and was taking the cash towardsthe repayment of the loan.

“On October 2, 2015, after finding out about the cash being removed from the safe and given to Bouzalas, Steve Papadatos, parish council president of St. Spyridon Church, write to Bouzalas demanding that Bouzalas return the cash to the school or provide adequate documentation of the purported loan. It is our understanding from Bishop Andonios that Bouzalas returned the $30,000 which is now being held by the Archdiocese pending further investigation to determine whether the funds should be returned to Bouzalas or to St. Spyridon.”

The Alma RealtyCompany of Steve Valiotis manages St. Spyridon’s Real Estate. On page 6 of the report is stated that “Alma Realty as well as Vordonia, Valco Building &Maintenance Supplies, City Ligths Construction Corp. and S7S Plumbing Corp. are all purported to have the same owner, Steven Valiotis(the ‘Valiotis Entities’). All of these vendors are hired by Alma to provide services to the Properties. There is no evidence that any of the services provided by these entities are put out to bid, except in one instance. The one time there appears to be a solicitation of bids is in connection with the construction ofthe elevator and a new men’s room in the church. However, it appears as though Alma realty controlled and manipulated the results of the bidding process to Vordonia’s (and indirectly, Mr. Valiotis’) benefit.”

On page 9 it is reported that “Alma Realty, through Valiotis, was loaning money to the Properties. However, these loans were not documented. Alma realty was unable to provide adequate documentation to support significant amounts paid by the Properties to the Valiotis Entities. If these expenses, which were taken as tax deductions by the Properties, could not be substantiated in a tax examination, they could be disallowed by the tax authorities.”

On page 10 it is stated that “the total of the unsupported payments is $568,163.33 for all three Properties…There were payments made for expenses that did not belong to the Properties. The expenses were for St. Spyridon Church and the School. The total payments on behalf of the church and the school were $205, 850.93. ..There were payments made for expenses of George Passias and Ethel Bouzalas. Passias credit card was paid $49,775.40. There was no detailed statement provided that described what expenses were incurred.” Also, the Properties were paying Bouzalas Medical Insurance of $5,839.82.

According to the report “there were expenses paid on behalf of the Properties with insufficient documentation such as the form of approval, authorization, the work perform etc. The total expenses are $59,685.93.”

On page 11 is written that “all three properties had transactions in the generalledger described as loans from Steve Valiotis to cover over drafts. There are 9 transactions for each entity in 2014 and 2015 that rangedbetween $1,000 and $10,500. The entities received cash deposits and transferred the money back in 1-3 months. In May of 2014 when the Properties were refinanced, each entity transferred funds to Alma Realty to repay the loans, of $43,544.25, also $58,871.16 and $15,588.73. As of December 31, 2015 the loans have been fully repaid. There was no formal documentation of these loans such as a promissory note or loan agreement. There was also no indication that these loans were approved by anyone from St. Spyridon.”

On page 12 it is recorded that “on May 9, 2014 the existing Alma bank mortgage of approximately $2 million on the Properties was refinanced with the New York Community Bank. As a result a $3.1 million mortgage was taken against the Properties. In addition to various fees and closings costs associated with the refinancing, a total of $480,000 of mortgage proceeds went to Alma Realty, $118,004, to Valco Building Maintenance & Supplies Corp$100,560 , to Vordonia Contracting & Supplies Corp. $262,000 and $353,000 to 621 Management. The payment to Alma Realty of $118,004 appears to be in order to repay undocumented loans from Valiotis which are discussed above.”

Also on page 12, the auditors stated that “although we have reviewed documentation that indicates the Archdiocese was aware Alma was owed $360,000 the payments to Alma Realty, Valco and Vordoniatotaling approximately $480,000 suggests that the Archdiocese was misled as to how much of the mortgage proceeds would be paid to entities purportedly owed by Valiotis.”

And also on page 12 it is written that “as described earlier, we noted from our review of documents as well as through discussions with Socratis Fourdoulas at Alma Realty, that there was no formal bidding process for work awarded to Valiotis entities. There was just one instance where there was evidence of a bidding process. This was in connection with the construction and installation of an elevator at St. Spyridon. However that process appears to have been controlledby Socratis Fourdoulas and Alma realty. Not surprisingly, Vordonia was awarded the construction contract.”

On page 14 it is reported that “Dennis Yuelys raised concerns over many of the issues that this investigation addresses…On February 23, 2009, he wrote to Archbishop Demetrios outlining his concerns over the finances of the church, the school and the Properties managed by Alma Realty.”

Also “on April 21, 2009, Dennis Yuelys wrote to George Papadakos at the Archdiocese outlining his concerns over the finances of the church, the school and the real estate managed by Alma Realty. Among other things, Mr. Yuelys writes about his concerns over the lack of internal controls over cash collections by the church and the school as well as potential conflicts of interest with Alma Realty.”

On page 15 mention is made about The Cohen Greve Investigation, which was limited to 2012 and 2013. Cohen noted that ‘they were instructed not to review the real estate operations.’ As Mr. Yuelys explained in his correspondence to the Archdiocese and as we have seen in this current investigation, there are significant concerns with Alma Realty’s management of the Properties. It is unclear why the decision was made to not allow Cohen Greve to include the Properties as part of its investigation.”

TNH’S DISCUSSION WITH VALIOTIS

SV: Good morning.

TNH: Good morning Mr. Valiotis, how are you?

SV: Good, good thank God.

TNH: We called you last evening too. We are going to publish the audit report of St. Spyridon and because you are mentioned in it I would to kindly ask you to talk to us. I will record our conversation so I can reportit with exactness.

SV: I cannot talk to you, what can I tell you, these people are crazy. I went up there I saved their buildings.

TNH: Tell me these things. Say whatever you want.

SV: Let me go I am busy now; I will call you in a while.

TNH: I will wait for your call.

SV: Yes.

TNH: Fine, I thank you.

(Valiotis called back within a few minutes.)

SV: What can I tell you since I don’t know what [the audit report] says?

TNH: It says that you were giving loans to the Properties, to the church. That you were giving personal loans in cash.

SV: We haven’t done these things, or cash. I want to know what I have been accused of [by the report]. I do not want to talk, I do not concern myself with them, I am tired of them.

TNH: Mr. Valiotis please tell me your comments.

SV: If I don’t know what they say I cannot answer.

TNH: Are you telling us that you don’t have the audit report?

SV: No I don’t have it, no.

TNH: It wasn’t sent to you?

SV: No.

TNH: So your comment is without the report you can’t answer?

SV: Yes.

TNH: Are you going to look for it?

SV: I don’t know where it is, I do not care, but if it comes my way I will read it. If youhave and send it to me I will read it and then I will talk to you.

TNH: I can’t send it to you, it is not ethical, it is not honest. You can find it from those in charge, from your associates.

SV: Have a good day.

TNH: You too.

2 Comments

  1. Where do you begin?
    Years ago many brave people from that Parish came forward with credible information about the “King of Ephraimite Clergymen”, former Fr. George Passias. They had the door of the Archdiocese slammed in their faces! Here we have a matter that warrants a referral to governmental authorities for a criminal investigation. The fact that it has not been referred to the District Attorney’s office speaks volumes about why we are failing as an institution. George Passias has had the weight of the Ephraimites behind him, and he has used it masterfully. The weight of the Ephraimites has sent a shock wave of fear in the Hierarchs of our decayed Church. We are being led by men of little or no character or strength, and now we are all paying for it.
    History will record the darkness that these men allowed to damage the Church. There are so many great people in our Church, they deserve so much better than they are receiving. The history of cover up in our Church should put everyone who says things like “we should not wash our dirty laundry in public” in the position of now understanding one thing. In the Greek Orthodox Church, ONLY WASHING YOUR DIRTY LAUNDRY IN PUBLIC, IS THE ONLY WAY TO HAVE THEM DO THE RIGHT THING! Nothing else works. When you treat whistleblowers like the criminals, instead of treating the wrongdoers like criminals you insure a break down of an institution. Here we see how inept our Church is at supervising those who choose to take advantage of it and corrupt it.

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