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Former OCA Treasurer Breaks Silence: Old Scandal Resurfaces Amid Fresh Allegatio

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    Former OCA Treasurer Breaks Silence: Old Scandal Resurfaces Amid Fresh Allegations & New Details by Mark Stokoe Stunning new allegations of financial
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 7, 2005
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      Former OCA Treasurer Breaks Silence:
      Old Scandal Resurfaces Amid Fresh Allegations & New Details

      by Mark Stokoe

      Stunning new allegations of financial corruption and personal
      misconduct, as well as insider details of a cover-up have been
      leveled against the current administration of the Orthodox Church in
      America by its former Treasurer, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler. In a
      series of three letters dated October 15 to November 1 sent to
      Metropolitan Herman, Primate of the OCA, members of the OCA's Holy
      Synod, and finally, members of the OCA's Metropolitan Council,
      Wheeler demanded the Orthodox Church in America "clean house".

      The Scandal

      Many of Wheeler's allegations, including the existence of
      secret discretionary accounts totalling millions of dollars, first
      surfaced in 1999 when the former chairman of the OCA's Audit
      Committee, John Kozey, balked at signing the 1997-98 official
      audit. When Kozey revealed the problem of "Discretionary Accounts"
      to the OCA's Holy Synod, and later, Metropolitan Council, Kozey was
      summarily dismissed, at least one member of the Metropolitan Council
      was forced to resign and Wheeler was "reorganized" out of his
      position as Treasurer.

      Now Wheeler, who had a stellar career in the administration of
      the OCA, first as an administrator at St. Vladimir's Seminary, then
      as Secretary to Metropolitan Theodosius from 1988-96 and finally as
      OCA Treasurer from 1996-1999, has broken his long silence about
      these matters in a confessional mea culpa that has the OCA
      administration in an uproar, the OCA hierarchy splintering, and the
      Orthodox cyberworld abuzz since major excerpts of the three letters
      were posted on
      Orthodox-Forum@...

      Financial and Personal Misconduct

      In his climatic third letter which details the origin, nature
      and scope of the corruption, as well as the ensuing cover-up,
      Wheeler explains: "The prevailing financial climate at the (OCA)
      Chancery was always one of concealment. Everything pertaining to
      money had to be handled in a secretive manner since the bishops were
      not interested in the financial needs of the central church, the
      Metropolitan Council and church bodies lacked, or rather, could
      never be given real control over the money and the masses were not
      spiritually mature enough to handle the truth." Given this
      atmosphere, Wheeler writes, funds were needed "to safeguard the
      church from scandal, to cover embarrassing credit card debts
      incurred by the Metropolitan, to provide family members who leached
      off their relatives with a steady stream of assistance, to pay
      blackmail requests and to provide the means to entertain with
      dinners, trips and gifts of cash the visiting foreign dignitaries
      and "friends of Syosset".

      According to Wheeler, secret bank accounts were established in
      the Roslyn Savings Bank, funded by undisclosed donations to the OCA
      by the Archer Daniels Midland Foundation (as well as personal
      foundation of ADM's founder, the Dwayne Andreas Foundation)
      totalling almost $5 million, as well as off-the-book sales of
      merchandise and liturgical items from Russia to OCA clergy and
      parishes. Wheeler details how Temporarily Restricted Funds, the
      OCA's Annual Mission, Seminary and Charity Appeals - were looted to
      cover operational expenses in an extensive shell game meant to cover
      financial irregularities. "On a regular basis", Wheeler
      writes, "petty cash checks were cut from these accounts in the
      amounts of $10,000 with the cash being given to Father Kondratick. A
      review of the financial records of the church during this period
      will show a deficit in the Charity Appeal Fund of close to $275,000
      dollars." Additional monies, according to Wheeler, were diverted
      from Church Planting Grants as well as the Department of Chaplains
      Bibles for Russia campaign.

      Wheeler's insider description of the financial chicanery at
      Syosset occasionally borders on the comic as he explains how a
      proposed visit to the OCA's Representation Church in Moscow, St.
      Catherine's by ADM's Dwayne Andreas threatened to bring down the
      house of cards. Having diverted Andreas' annual gifts for a
      conference and communication center in Moscow for years to secret
      accounts, Wheeler writes: "The greatest fear was that Mr. Andreas
      would want to view the nonexistent conference center. A plan was
      put into place to present the offices of the law firm renting
      property within St. Catherine's complex as the `Andreas Conference
      Center' the only thing to be changed were the signs on the outside
      of the building."

      The Scandal Breaks

      Wheeler's tone changes, however, as he begins to detail the
      events which led to his own dismissal in 1999. Wheeler writes: "As
      the All-American Council neared in 1999 I felt it essential to
      present an audited financial report for the years 1996-1998. Not to
      mention the fact that the plenary session devoted to finances was to
      be four hours in total presentation, with 45 minutes of open
      questions for the Treasurer."

      With neither Metropolitan Theodosius nor Fr. Kondratick
      willing to address the unethical behaviors or financial
      irregularities, Wheeler himself balked. "On June 20, 1999," Wheeler
      writes, "I finally broke down and explained the entire financial
      mess to Rob Taylor, a partner of the CPA Firm responsible for
      auditing the accounts of the Church." Taylor, however, only
      informed the Chairman of the OCA Auditing Committee, John Kozey, of
      the secret accounts. Kozey, in turn, informed all members of the
      Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council in early July, 1999 of the
      secret "discretionary accounts".

      The Cover Up

      "It is telling," continues Wheeler, "that within a week ...
      Metropolitan Theodosius retained the services of a private lawyer,
      Michael Kennedy, and Father Kondratick retained the services of
      David Chesnoff, a lawyer from Las Vegas provided through the
      connections of Richard Rock and William Turbey." In order to
      contain any potential scandal before the Metropolitan Council's
      meeting, the Holy Synod met and voted to officially allow
      discretionary accounts, as well as to prohibit audits of them. Now
      Wheeler reveals that: "The resolution signed by the Holy Synod
      during the All American Council in 1999 calling for the Metropolitan
      to deny any type of audit of the `Discretionary Account' was
      actually prepared by legal counsel for the Metropolitan."

      Wheeler continues: "This scandal would not be resolved, at
      least from the standpoint of Metropolitan Theodosius and Father
      Kondratick, until the Spring of 2000 with the Metropolitan's Report
      to the Holy Synod. Richard Rock, formerly of Martinez & Murphy,
      would run the `cover up' and worked with Father Kondratick to
      construct an entire paper trail for the `so-called' discretionary
      account from 1996 to 1999. The discretionary account would end up
      footing the bill for the personal attorneys for the Metropolitan and
      the Chancellor and the accounting fees for Heinz and Associates for
      their review(not an audit of financial statements) of the paperwork
      created `after the fact' by Richard Rock."

      In the wake of the successful cover-up, Kozey was dismissed
      and several members of the Metropolitan Council who had passionately
      argued for greater financial accountability and transparency forced
      to resign, as neither the Bishops, nor clergy would confront
      Syosset. The affair seemed finished as Metropolitan Theodosius
      reported to the 2000 Spring Session of the Holy Synod that "... an
      external audit is not a canonical requirement and is an expensive
      and unnecessary exercise which causes internal turmoil rather than
      good order." The cover-up was complete.

      Charges Continue

      Charges of financial irregularities, however, continued to
      be leveled against Syosett. Most recently, widespread questions
      arose regarding the dispersal (or rather, non-dispersal) of the more
      than $275,000 collected specifically for the 9/11 Charity Fund. In
      response to these questions, and at the urging of his Diocesan
      Council, Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, representing the
      OCA's largest diocese, sent a letter in June 2005 asking for
      a "broader explanation of church finances and accounts" at the All-
      American Council in Toronto.

      In a response dated June 30, 2005, the Chancellor of the
      OCA maintained that it would be "inappropriate" to release
      additional financial information to the All-American
      Council "without the prior approval of the Metropolitan Council and
      the blessing of the Holy Synod, claiming that the Metropolitan
      Council "is provided with all pertinent information concerning
      finances." This refusal caused one prominent Metropolitan Council
      member from the neighboring Diocese of Western Pennsylvania, US
      Attorney Greg Nescott, to resign in July 2005 citing
      the "...continued lack of openness in the OCA's chancery and central
      administration."

      Wheeler Breaks His Silence

      Wheeler offers no single or dramatic reason for breaking his
      silence at this time. He does acknowledge that writing these
      letters "has been cathartic". His sole hope, he writes is "by
      conveying my side of the story, and by attempting to explain the
      financial abuse that has taken place over the years, we can affect a
      change in the approach to financial stewardship and accountability
      in the Orthodox Church in America."

      Responses Vary

      Clearly, Wheeler's letters have reopened the book on the
      many scandals that have plagued Syosset for the past six years.
      Publicly, Syosset has been silent on the charges. Privately, Syosset
      supporters dismiss Wheeler's allegations as the work of
      a "malcontent", saying "the issues have been resolved long ago".

      Not surprisingly, other members of the Holy Synod,
      however, seem to have taken Wheeler's charges to heart. Although
      rebuffed before the Council, Archbishop Job held an emergency
      meeting of all his Deans on Thursday November 3rd in Chicago to
      discuss Wheeler's revelations. No official announcement has yet been
      made but sources close the meeting indicate that unless significant
      actions are taken, the largest Diocese in the Orthodox Church in
      America may be contemplating withholding funds to Syosset until
      remedial actions are taken.

      [Mark Stokoe is a free-lance journalist and author living in Dayton
      OH. A graduate of St. Vladimir's Seminary, Stokoe served as the
      General Secretary of SYNDESMOS from 1982-88, and as the first
      Director of the OCA Department of Youth and Campus Ministries from
      1988-1991. He is the co-author of "Orthodox Christians in North
      America 1796-1996."]
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