SALT LAKE CITY (UT)
The National Herald
August 22, 2013
By Theodore Kalmoukos
Salt Lake City, UT – Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver in a letter to the Parish Council dated August 8, 2013 provides "cover" to his two priests Gilbert and Kouremetis of the Salt Lake City community in Utah for what appears to be dubious dealings of the benevolent accounts which they controlled, as TNH revealed in its last week's edition.
Isaiah finds nothing wrong that the priests were using the benevolent accounts to write checks one of them for his sons and the other for his secretary. Isaiah calls the audit "witch-hunt" and is asking is the audit committee members "have any sense of morals."
Isaiah has kept both churches, the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Prophet Elias, closed for three consecutive Sundays. TNH has learned that Archbishop Demetrios of America is extremely upset with Isaiah and also with Gilbert and Kouremetis. Members of the Archdiocese's legal team are in close contact with the officials of the Salt Lake City parish trying to prevent intervention by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Opinion among high ranking officials at the Archdiocese as well as at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople is widespread that Isaiah should submit his resignation on his own.
TNH has also learned that Kouremetis is looking for a way out of Salt Lake City. He contacted Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey requesting relocation, but Evangelos is hesitant to bring him there. but he is hesitant to take him in the New Jersey Metropolis. Isaiah stated in his letter among other things that "from the photocopies which you sent to me, I realize that the audit committee has overstepped its bounds in two areas; 1. It included the funds of the benevolent fund which is never a part of the annual budget of a parish, due to the fact that it is considered a confidential fund to help those in need, and 2. It included cancelled checks and payment information for the years 2009,2010, and 2011.
"On the basis of this information, I would say that this is nothing more than a witch-hunt to embarrass your priests. Does the current audit committee not have any sense of morals. What is its purpose regarding this procedure? And if these funds are confidential, since they have only one signatory on the checks, are not the Zions Bank and the Chase Bank of Salt Lake City liable for divulging confidential information? Can this happen to other people who do business with these banks?"
He also wrote that "I diligently inquired of both priests holding the benevolent funds about the items listed. With the benevolent fund of Prophet Elias Church I received concise information from the priest of the drastic situation the recipient was in due to serious problems which had arisen. Having reflected on the information I had received, I can say most definitely that the assistance given to this individual was truly of a benevolent nature."
Isaiah sounds upset with the fact that the parish acquired information on the two benevolent accounts: "I still cannot understand how the audit committee, which is responsible for the 2012 budget of the parish has information from the Zions Bank for the years 2009, and 2010. If this is not a witch-hunt, what is it?
"Secondly, in regard to the information I have of the benevolent fund of Holy Trinity Cathedral, I spoke extensively with the priest since the expenditures include members of his family. I saw that six expenditures are related to a professor of our Holy Cross School of Theology and seminarians studying for the holy priesthood. I know for a fact that all seminarians at our school of theology, as well as students at all colleges have unexpected needs that require financial assistance. As to the other five expenditures, they had to do with worship services involving visiting clergy and chanting.
"Again, I recognize such expenditures as normal, as in all of our parishes in the Archdiocese."
He completely ignores the fact that Gilbert was writing cheeks to his sons "for car repairs" but he once more wrote "finally, I really cannot understand your logic in this investigation of your two priests, regarding confidential benevolent assistance, a period covering three years and pertaining to about
twenty-five thousand dollars, when your parish did not give its annual commitment to the Archdiocese for 2011 in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars which the other parishes of this Metropolis paid. Your payment for 2012 is delinquent as well as this year's."
Isaiah blames the Parish Council saying that "it appears that for the past fifteen months [it] has done little or nothing to bring unity and increased income to the parish. You are one of the wealthiest parishes in the Archdiocese with two million dollars in separate accounts and you are crying poverty." He threatens the council that he will request the Archbishop to remove them. He wrote that "it appears that the time is coming to the point when the Archbishop can declare canonical disorder with the removal of the current council and assuming the administration of the parish until it conforms to the Uniform Parish Regulations of the Archdiocese (Article 16).
"I am hopeful that you will not allow this to occur. As members of Christ's Church you have accepted a sacred obligation to serve the Lord and His people. It is not too late to do this."
TNH revealed last week that Gilbert and 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.
According the documents acquired by TNH and had been sent to Demetrios and Isaiah, 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.
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.
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. Gilbert, Kouremetis, Demetrios, and Isaiah all failed to respond to TNH's request for comment.
On July 24, 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 has reported 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 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. He also instructed 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."
The Parish Council 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."