NEW YORK – The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York as well as the New York State Attorney General are conducting an investigation into the finances of St. Nicholas National Shrine as well as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
The National Herald first reported the story on March 3 on its website, thenationalherald.com, and also stated that a grand jury might be formed to look into this case and that a subpoena was issued demanding the relevant documents.
Archbishop Demetrios, Archdiocesan Council Vice chairman George Tsandikos, and Legal Counsel Cathy Walsh did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.
On April 3, the Archdiocese issued a press release denying “portions” of TNH’s story (without mentioning the newspaper by name) but confirmed it is under investigation by the authorities. Legal experts pointed out to TNH that the press release is again detrimental to the Archdiocese’s best interests as it invites the investigators to be more forceful. Moreover, that it is highly unusual for a press release to deny certain portions of a report and that the press release was issued only at the insistence of Demetrios as a way to discredit the reporting of this newspaper.
Meanwhile Archdiocesan Chancellor Bishop Andonios of Phasiane sent an e-mail to all employees of the Archdiocese on April 4, telling them that due to the investigations on the way they should make sure that neither delete of modify “any and all documents including emails, text messages, and hard copy documents relating to St. Nicholas Shrine” which in effect contracting the Press Release of the Archdiocese.
Specifically in order to give our readers all the information needed to form their own opinions, we publish both the press release and the email in their entireties.
“During this most solemn week of our Church’s calendar, the Archdiocese feels compelled, out of pastoral consideration for our faithful and those entities working closely with us on critical undertakings, to respond to a report, portions of which were inaccurate, recently disseminated in the media. The Archdiocese reminds everyone of the following facts, most of which have been previously communicated:
“In late 2017, the Archdiocese, of its own initiative, contacted the Public Charities Division of the NY Attorney General’s office, and subsequently notified that office of certain concerns discovered while reviewing financial records (payroll and credit card statements) of the institution. The Archdiocese continues to work closely with the authorities as they review the matter.
“Last October, the Archdiocese engaged the law firm of BakerHostetler and, through them, the services of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), to thoroughly investigate the finances of St. Nicholas National Shrine. Since then, both BakerHostetler and PwC have been diligently examining the transactions, expenditures, donations and other documents relating to St. Nicholas, and we await their report, which should be released to us shortly. The PwC findings will of course, be shared with the community. Concurrently, we have kept the NY Attorney General’s office apprised of the status of the PwC review.
“Although, as of today, the Archdiocese has not been served with formal notice, we do understand that another governmental agency intends to request information regarding St. Nicholas National Shrine. As has been the case with the Attorney General’s office, we affirm that we will cooperate fully with their investigation. To that end, we believe the report of PwC will be of great assistance.
“The record will demonstrate that the Archdiocese has been and remains, pro-active and fully engaged in reviewing all of its governance policies, procedures and finances, including those of St. Nicholas. Through extreme cost-cutting and other measures, the Archdiocese has made significant strides in improving our financial position, as well as implementing proper internal controls.
“Lastly, our actions demonstrate that we remain committed to accountability and full transparency to our faithful and parishes. While much work still needs to be done, significant steps have been taken to address many of the issues which the Archdiocese has previously communicated to the community. Those intensive efforts will continue.
“We take this opportunity to wish all a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Pascha. May the light of our Lord’s glorious Resurrection enlighten the hearts and minds of all the faithful and may His Peace ever abide with us!”
BISHOP ANDONIOS’ EMAIL
“As you may have read in the Press Release issued yesterday, there appears that a governmental agency is looking into the National Shrine of St. Nicholas. As of today we have not received any official notification but in anticipation of that happening, I wanted to share the following with you:
“Employees are reminded that they are required to preserve and maintain any and all documents including emails, text messages, and hard copy documents relating to St. Nicholas Shrine.
“Deletion of any documents related to St. Nicholas (e.g., fundraising) could be considered an obstruction of justice, subjecting us and the individuals involved to criminal penalties.
“Thank you for your attention to the above and of course, your cooperation!”