Dubious Dealings Are Revealed by Audit of Greek Churches in UT
- Dubious Dealings Are Revealed by Audit of Greek Churches in UT
August 15, 2013
Salt Lake City, UT Alarming situations have been created at the parish of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Salt lake City and also at the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America because a financial audit at the parish discovered strange financial activities by two priests which may implicate the parish and the Archdiocese with the Internal Revenue Service.
Confidential documents acquired by TNH show that priests Mathew Gilbert and Mike Kouremetis had open benevolent funds accounts supposedly to assist discreetly and confidently people in need, but instead Gilbert wrote checks to his sons and Kouremetis paid his secretary's house rent. He had also authorized her as a cosigner on the account.
The Salt Lake City Greek Orthodox Community has two churches: the Holy Trinity Cathedral where Gilbert is pastoring and the Prophet Elias where Kouremetis is the priest.
According to the documents sent to Archbishop Demetrios of America and Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, 11 checks were paid to Gilbert's sons over 9 months totaling $4,637.18 for car repairs, assisting with church services, schoolbooks, and undetailed reasons. Also a check of $ 75.13 was issued payable to Gilbert for a lunch with another cleric named Maximos.
On December 20, 2011 Fr. Gilbert wrote a check payable to his son, Andrew, at the amount of $350.00 for car repair. On February 17 he wrote a check to his other son Christopher Gilbert for $1,000.00 with the description Deacon Chrysostomos. On the same date Gilbert wrote a check to his other son, Aaron, for $300.00 with the description Seminarian.
Gilbert opened the benevolent account in February 2006 and he closed in May 2013 after the parish council had started auditing the finances of the parish and requested to examine all the accounts that use the church's tax ID number.
From Kouremetis' benevolent account 14 payments were made for household rent for the Church secretary's benefit totaling $12,835.00 ($600 of this was a cash payment says for rent).
Also, the records show that 4 cash payments to the Church secretary totaling $1,337 plus $ 215.49 in other miscellaneous payments.
The documents show that $13,787.49 expenditures from the benevolent account went to the Church secretary.
According to the records sent to Demetrios and Isaiah, another $7,212.70 or another 25% of the total contributions made to the benevolent account were unidentified, including a $2,000 payment to law firm Scally&Reeding.
On August 20, 2009 Kouremetis issued a check for $1,010.00 payable to H.C. Moody & Associates (Rental Mgt Company for Elizabeth Michaelson rent (Church secretary).
The audit committee wrote that "because of tax reporting problems it must be determined if any of these amounts went to the Church secretary or any other person receiving "income" from the church."
Parishioners, donors, and also the parish were contributing to the benevolent accounts of the two priests trusting that their contributions would be used for philanthropic purposes assisting people in need. Tom McGrath, chairman of the audit committee declined to speak to TNH stating that "we have not yet informed the members of the parish in detail and I don't think isn't right to be published first in the press."
Gilbert, Kouremetis, Demetrios, and Isaiah all failed to respond to TNH's request for comment.
On July 24, Prophet Elias Parish Council President Dimitrios Tsagaris informed Isaiah in writing, attaching a number of revealing documents of Gilbert's and Kouremetis' benevolent accounts, including copies of checks. Isaiah not only did nothing but he closed the churches as TNH wrote last week because the Parish Council was forced to reduce the salaries of the priests by 40% due to lack of funds at the parish.
Isaiah in a letter dated February 4, 2013 sent to Gilbert, who had complained to him that the Parish Council was requesting to audit his benevolent account instructed him no to give any information the audit committee while calling the benevolent account "extension of the Sacrament of Confession." Isaiah stated among other things that "as I mentioned to you previously, the Benevolent Fund is an extension of the Sacrament of Confession. You could be defrocked from the holy priesthood, if you were known to divulge such confidential information. Moreover, you would be going against the words of the Lord when He says, `take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them (Matt. 6:2).' Our Lord continues on to say, `but when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your charitable deed may be in secret...(Matt. 6:3).' What our Lord is saying is that you, also, must forget the good that you do for others."
Isaiah went on to instruct Gilbert not to keep records: "If this is the case, and it is, you must not keep lasting records of the good deeds which are being done with the funds you receive for this purpose. These words of our Lord can also be explained as the left hand, which is the Audit Committee and the right hand, which is you."
He also wrote to Gilbert that "if the Audit Committee continues to be insistent in this matter, it should communicate with me, since I ratified the current Parish Council. You are not to have any more dialogue on this matter with anyone in the parish."
In an August 4 letter to Demetrios, the Parish Council wrote that "We, the Parish Council, feel it is imperative to inform you about a serious issue our community is faced with and ask for your timely guidance and help. This is in regards to the benevolent funds of our community in Salt Lake City, Utah."
They also wrote that "one of the administrative priorities of this Parish Council was to look into all accounts that were using Church tax ID to better understand their qualification of a tax exempt status. Our audit committee was assisting us during this process by providing findings and recommendations.
"As a result, we were made aware earlier this year that some accounts appear to be potentially problematic. The auditors chose to continue the process of gathering and analyzing all information prior to disclosing more specific findings to the Parish Council. At the conclusion of the regularly scheduled July 15, 2013 Parish Council meeting, the audit committee invited us to attend their scheduled meeting where they presented the above mentioned more specific findings.
"Attached please find what was presented to the Parish Council on July 15, 2013 by the auditors. This information has also been mailed to our Metropolitan."
They also wrote to the archbishop that "Rest assured that our Community's concern is not that of divulging the sources that funded the Benevolent Fund accounts; the concern is appropriateness of the expenditures of the funds, and the Parish's liability under the IRS laws.
"Items for your consideration that merit further investigation should include but not limited to the following:
Why does the "Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church Benevolent Fund" Zions Bank Account No.: 0041-45001, contain the name of "Elizabeth Michaelsen" as an owner and signatory party to the account, in addition to "Michael A. Kouremetis.
In view of the fact that Elizabeth Michaelsen has been a long time employee of and acted as the secretary to Fr. Kouremetis, she became the primary dollar amount beneficiary of the Benevolent Fund. Please note the payment of rents, attorney's fees, etc ..
Who authorized her to write checks for her own benefit, and to sign the name of Fr. Michael Kouremetis
Who informed/authorized the payee bank to accept and pay the checks signed by someone other than Michael Kouremetis, as it is evident by some of the signatures on the sample checks?
What are the IRS implications of paying an employee additional funds without issuing an IRS 1099 Form. We have been advised that this affects both Ms. Michaelsen and the underage family members of an employee. There are additional serious IRS concerns raised by the auditors as set forth therein.
Tsagaris said "what can I say about the benevolent fund? It's a philanthropic fund from which the priests give money to people in need." He declined to say who contributed to this fund and if the parish was included. Tsagaris said "the priests must give this information" and her added "you should get all these answers from the audit committee which have all the details."
In regards if the Parish Council has confronted the two priests, Tsagaris said "this is a very sensitive issue and our Archdiocese and Metropolis are looking into it and I want them to examine it and tell us what to do, but we haven't heard anything up to now from them."
About the concerns the Parish Council has raised in its letter to the archbishop about possible IRS implications, Tsagaris said "we have sent everything to Archbishop Demetrios and Metropolitan Isaiah and I can't say anything more and they should help us to see the legal implications."
He declined to say if the two priests attempted to communicate with him the last few days about the benevolent accounts issue, he said "I don't wish to go into details on this issue."