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Six Million Dollar Lawsuit Filed Against OCA, Others

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  • Melanie Jula Sakoda
    Title: Six Million Dollar Lawsuit Filed Against OCA, Others Author: Mark Stokoe Date Published: 5/3/2008 Publication: Orthodox Christians For Accountability
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2008
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      Title: Six Million Dollar Lawsuit Filed Against OCA, Others

      Author: Mark Stokoe

      Date Published: 5/3/2008

      Publication: Orthodox Christians For Accountability (OCANews)

      Links:

      http://www.ocanews.org/news/Koumentakos5.3.08.html

      http://pokrov.org/display.asp?ds=Article&id=676

      • 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.
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