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OCANews: Six Million Dollar Lawsuit Filed Against OCA, Others

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    http://www.ocanews.org/news/Koumentakos5.3.08.html 5.3.08 Six Million Dollar Lawsuit Filed Against OCA, Others • Employment Discrimination and Retaliation
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2008
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      http://www.ocanews.org/news/Koumentakos5.3.08.html
      5.3.08

      Six Million Dollar Lawsuit Filed Against OCA, Others

      � Employment Discrimination and Retaliation Alleged by Maryland Couple
      � Contend Priest Breached Seal Of Confession To Embarrass, Harm Them�
      Lack of accountability and financial misconduct have cost the OCA at least three million dollars in the past decade. That figure may be about to double�as a six-million dollar lawsuit was filed against Metropolitan Herman, the Orthodox Church in America, the Diocese of Washington and New York, Fr. Raymond Velencia, the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew (OCA), St. Matthew Housing Development, Inc., and the Board of Directors of St. Matthew Housing Development, Inc., on Thursday, May 1st in Howard County, Maryland.�
      And for the same reasons......
      Allegations of Financial Misconduct
      The lawsuit was brought by two former parishioners of St. Matthew�s, Kristine Patico Koumentakos and her husband, Nicholas Koumentakos. The suit is based on charges of employment discrimination and retaliation against Mrs. Koumentakos, the former director of St. Matthew�s House, a non-profit�residence created by the parish, �for adults with physical disabilities. Fr. Velencia, whose actions lie at the heart of the suit, is both the priest of St. Matthew�s parish and the President of the St. Matthew Housing Development. Koumentakos claims that in late December 2005

      �...Velencia wanted to get a loan amounting to an amount of approximately 2.2 million dollars, in order to build a physical structure next to SMH (St. Matthew�s House) that would be the new (church) building for OCSM (Orthodox Church of St. Matthew).... Velencia was unable to get sufficient funding and wants to use St. Matthew�s as collateral for the new building. That when Velencia approached Mrs. Koumentakos with his idea for funding, Mrs.. Koumentakos advised defendant Velencia she was unsure if it was legal for SMH to be used as collateral because SMH was built and continues to operate with Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds. Mrs. Koumentakos responsibilities included the oversight and accounting of HUD funds. Mrs. Koumentakos also advised Velencia of his long-standing policy to never co-mingle SMH fund with OCSM funds.� Subsequently, �.. Velencia became enraged with Mrs. Koumentakos caution for using SMH as collateral and
      allowed her caution and concern to become a personal disagreement between Defendant Velencia and Mrs. Koumentakos. On or about January 11 2006 Defendant Velencia, OCSM, and the Board of Directors of SMH learn that Mrs. Koumentakos concerns were accurate and thus prevented Defendant Velencia from a potential violation of Federal Laws.���
      Soon thereafter �...Velencia, for the first time, began questioning Mrs. Koumentakos job performance.�
      Fr. Velencia� fired Koumentakos in� February 2006. Two St. Matthew Housing Board members were also dismissed by Fr. Velencia as well, and a majority of the Board subsequently resigned. Fr. Velencia claims Mrs. Koumentakos, who had fallen late in her pregnancy ( in November 2005) and was working largely from home on a modified work schedule, agreed to by Fr. Velencia and the St. Matthew�s Board, was no longer able to adequately fulfill her duties.�
      Lack of Accountability
      With the St. Matthew�s House Board of Director�s dismantled, Koumentakos protested to St. Matthew�s parish council as well as the local OCA Dean (Fr. Constantine White), to no avail. It was then Mrs. Koumentakos first learned that Fr. Velencia had been violating her confidentiality by revealing to both church members and to the St. Matthew house board members, explicit details of abuse in her past and subsequent treatment, confided to him in confession and counseling, in an attempt to discredit her concerns.
      An outraged Koumentakos, who felt she had been not only unjustly terminated from her job, but was now being re-victimized by having her darkest secrets revealed by her former employer and priest, contacted civil and ecclesastical authorities. Koumentakos filed a complaint with Metropolitan Herman against Fr. Velencia for �pastoral misconduct� in January 2007. Metropolitan Herman responded to the�written complaint within 24 hours, assigning� Fr. Alexey Karlgut to investigate the matter.
      According to Koumentakos Fr. Karlgut interviewed both she and her husband on February 8, 2007. At that time they supplied him with several written witness statements, as well as contact information for additional witnesses. Following an extremely difficult interview, in which Koumentakos learned� Fr. Velencia had already shared with Fr. Karlgut the details of her abuse and treatment, Karlgut asked Koumentakos to sign a waiver releasing the OCA from any liability in her controversy with Velencia. Koumentakos� said she would consider his request, but declined�to sign at that time.
      Later that same night, Fr. Velencia� filed an interim �peace order� against Koumentakos, claiming she had left� threatening messages on his voice mail. Koumentakos was made to�appear in court the next day, where the judge dismissed Fr. Velencia�s complaint as lacking merit when Koumentakos proved she could not have made the calls. Surprisingly, Fr. Karlgut was also present at the hearing; and following the dismissal approached the Koumentakoses with a second request to sign a waiver. This time they refused outright.�
      Subsequent attempts by the Koumentakoses and their lawyers over the next weeks to seek� updates on the progress of Karlgut�s��investigation were unsuccessful.� Koumentakos�s witnesses all reported to her that not one of them� had been contacted by Fr. Karlgut. Almost two months later Fr. Karlgut called the Koumentakoses� lawyer and said that he was still waiting for her signature on the waiver. He made it clear that the OCA was not actually obligated to help the couple, since they were �no longer members of an OCA parish�.....
      The Office of Human Rights Does Respond
      Before Koumentakos officially complained to the OCA,�in January 2007, she had filed two discrimination actions with the Howard County Office of Human Rights claiming wrongful termination (due to pregnancy) in April 2006, and later one for retaliation (for having filed the discrimination complaint) in February 2007. Fr. Velencia was not cooperative with the investigation into the first complaint so it took more than a year for the case to be heard. In fact, Velencia had to be taken to court by the County Office of Human Rights itself in March 2007 for failing to hand over the required information. A Maryland Circuit Court Judge eventually required Fr. Velencia� to produce the needed documents, and both cases were finally adjudicated in April 2007.

      In a written report, dated April 25th, 2007, obtained by OCANews.org, the Office of Human Rights substantiated all five of Koumentakos�s allegations that Fr. Velencia had retaliated against her for filing discrimination charges, including her allegations that he had falsely accused her of threatening phone messages, that he has refused to pay outstanding business-related phone bills and that he had sent �libelous� letters concerning Koumentakos to her former parish family.�
      In a second written report,� dated May 4, 2007,�obtained by OCANews.org, the Human Rights Office substantiated all 15 of Koumentakos�s allegations regarding Fr. Velencia�s actions relating to her�termination. The Office concluded tersely: �There is reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred.� �
      An attempt to resolve the matter in July 2007 failed. The OCA wanted a waiver. Koumentakos wanted a letter of apology from Fr. Velencia for breaking the seal of confession by exposing her family�s secrets to members of the St. Matthew�s House Board, St. Matthew�s Parish Council and parish family. Fr. Velencia refused to write a letter. The Koumentakos would not sign a waiver. Subsequent attempts also failed.
      The Situation Escalates
      The unresolved issues festered throughout the Summer and early Fall of 2007, until in October, an exasperated Koumentakos wrote to the OCA, again, asking what, if anything, was being done with her claim of �pastoral misconduct� made almost a year earlier. � Fr. Velencia sent an email as well� - not only to the Synod and the Metropolitan Council - but to OCANews.org as well - claiming that:
      �It has come to my attention that I am the subject of correspondence to you from a former parishioner and employee who is in her letters to you attempting to destroy my professional and personal life.� Please find attached my response to her original complaint to Metropolitan HERMAN in January of this year. Thank you for taking the time to read it.�
      Members of the the Synod, the Metropolitan Council and the editor of OCANews.org all confirm receiving Mrs. Koumentakos and Fr. Velencia�s emails.
      Fr. Velencia�s attachment - a letter to the Metropolitan, some 10 pages long - did not specficially address Mrs. Koumentakos�allegations,� but rather contained intimate, personal and graphic details about Mrs. Koumentakos�s abuse, her subsequent treatment, details about her husband,�and their marriage, in what may be described as an attempt to damage her credibility and concerns.
      OCANews.org will not make the contents of the email attachment received from Fr. Velencia public, aside from what the Koumentakoses, in their legal brief, have themselves been forced to reveal.
      The OCA, through its new lawyer, Michael Genute, then asked�the Koumentakoses for 60 more days to once again review her case.� An angry and humiliated Mrs. Koumentakos, whose painful past had now been revealed to another 39 strangers (the members of the Synod and Metropolitan Council), not to mention given to a public website to be posted, responded:�
      �...You have asked me to be patient.� Respectfully, I find that request to be offensive. �
      I reached out twice to my local Deanery for help 19 months ago and was not even given the courtesy of a response. �
      I reached out to the OCSM ( Orthodox Church of St Matthew)� parish council for help; they were impotent. �
      I reached out to the Metropolitan for help and received Fr. Alexey - who was more interested in having me sign a waiver than investigate, who lied point blank to my husband, who spent more time focusing on my history ..... than the misconduct of Fr. Ray (Velencia) , and then allowed him to escalate the issue repeatedly. �
      Still, I waited patiently for some sort of contact or report from Fr. Alexey, hoping that in the end, the national church would do the right thing, the honest thing.�
      What I got months later was a letter from Fr. Alexey with the obvious intent to do more harm, to further humiliate and intimidate me. He wrote about my refusal to sign the waiver, he misrepresented himself as a legal professional, he stated that he found Fr. Ray to be a �goal-oriented priest� who had been successful in building his church, that he had been unable to substantiate the allegations I made because �no one had come forward� - interesting choice of words given that he refused to contact my witnesses and made no reference whatsoever to the witness statements he received in writing.�
      Additionally, he wrote, �As to allegations of violation of �pastoral confidentiality� it should be stated that in the teaching, Doctrine, and Canonical rules, regulations, and tribunal for internal discipline and government of the Orthodox Church no such concept exists.��
      Imagine the reaction of the OCA community to those comments!
      I then reached out to the entire Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council for help.
      I received a brief letter stating that Metropolitan Herman would �need to look further into the matters at hand�.
      I again reached out to the Synod and MC, indicating strongly that such a minimal response was unsatisfactory.
      I insisted that appropriate action be taken and asked for the following information:
      When will I be contacted?
      Who will be conducting the review of information?
      In what manner will this be done?
      When will the review be complete and when will appropriate action take place?
      These questions remain unanswered by the OCA or your representatives, yet you ask me for my patience.�
      �I am confident that you can understand why this is unacceptable to me. �
      �She concluded:�
      � I have begged all involved for help, for intervention for the last time. I will not do it again.�
      The Koumentakoses are now seeking a jury trial and $6 million. Fr. Karlgut�s desired waiver is now moot. The Metropolitan Council now has yet another major legal matter before it. And this coming week Fr. Velencia welcomes Metropolitan Herman to St. Matthew�s parish in Columbia, Maryland, to consecrate the new $2.2 million church building which gave rise to the whole affair.�
      A copy of the complaint,�in full,�is available at Pokrov.org.�
      - Mark Stokoe


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