Monday, December 7, 2009


About 150 members of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church packed the church hall Sunday night, December 6, 2009, for an emergency meeting to inform members of a massive embezzlement from the church’s endowment and building funds, an attorney and sources in the congregation said.
Church leaders would not identify the member of the church at 480 Racebrook Road who had access to both funds and who is believed to have embezzled vast sums of money, possibly more than $1 million, several sources with direct knowledge of the alleged embezzlement said. A specific dollar amount could not be independently verified Sunday.
St. Barbara has a membership of about 750 families.
Sources said the person who handled the church’s funds also handled individual retirement, college and other investment accounts for members of the congregation, and that individual losses potentially may be far greater than the church’s alone.
“As a possible victim of financial fraud, St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church has referred a matter to federal law enforcements relating to investments of church funds,” said Joseph Martini, an attorney representing the church, after the meeting. “We are now working with the FBI in the investigation of the facts and circumstances relating to this matter.
Martini said he referred the matter to federal authorities.
“I thought everybody behaved with grace” in the meeting, Martini said, declining to answer further questions.
The sting from the alleged theft was particularly sharp as the St. Barbara community has rallied together to raise $1.45 million as of July 2008 toward a $6.3 million expansion project.
“The Greeks are a very proud people and we were very proud that we (were) adding to our ranks and expanding our church,” one congregant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said before the meeting. “We all came together to raise money for this. To have someone take that away is disgraceful.”
The New Haven Register was not allowed into the meeting, but parishioners said church officials, including the bishop of the New York Diocese, attended.
State Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, a member of St. Barbara, said there were few specifics provided at the meeting, but that church leaders “did what they had to do” by reporting the losses to authorities.
“There’s a fellow who has pretty much disappeared ... Everybody knew him in there,” Klarides said. “Obviously, it was turned over to the FBI on Friday.”
The allegations are “that there was fraud and the man misappropriated money,” said Klarides, who said she had been asked by others within the St. Barbara community to answer some of the questions.
“Our community, our Greek community in this area, is very strong. Clearly everyone wants this to be resolved as soon as possible,” she said. “If somebody did something wrong, they should be held accountable to the fullest extent possible. Whoever it is who is found to be responsible should be held responsible to the fullest extent of the law.
At the meeting, there were “people who invested their money — college funds, retirement funds,” Klarides said. “There was a man behind me who said he invested his entire retirement fund in there. There was another woman who said that was her kids’ college money.”
While there were many questions, “the feeling in the meeting was ... we’re clearly going to rally around and get through this together,” Klarides said.
In June 2008, St. Barbara members approved a $6.3 million renovation and expansion project to add a library, bookstore, gymnasium, kitchen and 13 classrooms, according to the church newsletter.
Church officials would not delve into specifics or even confirm that money is missing, referring questions to Martini, but told parishioners that now is an important time to donate, said one parishioner who attended the meeting.
The church officials told members that this is a private matter and they should not talk to the press, the parishioner said.
When someone asked church officials about the procedure to determine who handles the church’s investments, the individual was chastised by a church official as being “unprofessional” and “not part of the community,” according to people inside the meeting.

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