Stalled Greek Church Project Prompts Legal Investigation

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is investigating the finances of the rebuilding of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and those of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the New York Post reports.

The project of the resurrection of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church — destroyed on 9/11 — has the authorities probing for part of the $80 million – that is the total cost of the project – that seems to be missing, the newspaper reports. The project is funded by private donations.

Specifically, the state Attorney General’s Office is investigating $15 million which has gone missing from the construction accounts for the half-built church. Works stopped in December after the Archdiocese was unable to pay the contractor, the New York Post claims.

The church on Liberty Street — to be named St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine — was designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It is made of the same marble used in the Parthenon and was supposed to be ready in 2016.

However, the project has stalled due to financial problems. The church collected only $37 million of $49 million in pledged donations for the project.

“The church has zero capabilities to manage a project like the St. Nicholas Shrine,” Dean Popps, a Virginia lawyer and former leader of a church reform movement, told the New York Post. “Let’s just say these guys aren’t the same Greeks who built the Parthenon.”

According to the newspaper, Jerry Dimitriou, a former archdiocese executive director, warned church officials in a January letter that design changes would cost “millions of extra dollars”.

“Were you not told, before Mr. Calatrava was chosen, that if you choose him as the design architect, the budget would surely be at least double what was originally estimated?” Dimitriou wrote.

At the same time, there were allegations of mismanagement of funds. The Archdiocese said an internal review of the project’s finances found a breach that prompted it to alert the Attorney General to “concerns” related to the organization’s “payroll and credit-card statements”.

At the same time, the Archdiocese denied $15 million was missing, but its treasurer said some $4.75 million deposited in unspecified accounts had been transferred out, likely to close the Archdiocese’s $5 million deficit, the New York Post says.

The Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, who headed the fund-raising, told the newspaper that the church was still evaluating how much money was improperly transferred.