After Seven Years,
Balance of 9/11 Fund Allocated
For the second time in a week, the OCA has announced a resolution to a long-standing problem stemming from the years of scandal. More than seven years after an October 2001 Church-wide “Emergency Relief Appeal” raised more than $285,000 for victims of the 9/11 attacks, the OCA Treasurer announced that the last of the monies raised have finally been allocated. In a posting on its website late Friday, December 12th, the Orthodox Church in America stated:
“ The Treasurer of the Orthodox Church in America, Priest Michael Tassos, announced today that a check in the sum of $151,500.00 was sent to the New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS). This represents the sum of money remaining in the OCA’s 9/11 Fund, which had not been allocated.
Approximately $285,000.00 was collected by the OCA in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. The distribution of these funds became a priority for the current Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council. This final payment comes from the OCA’s Unrestricted Endowment Fund, replacing the portions of the 9/11 Fund which had not been previously distributed.”
The Saga of the “Missing” 9/11 Funds
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the OCA conducted an “Emergency Relief Appeal” that gathered more than $285,000 in less than two months. As the Synod wrote to the Church on November 1, 2001:
“Since the events of 11 September 2001 the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America have responded with an outpouring of generosity and love to help the victims of the attacks on New York and Washington and those who died in the plane crash outside of Pittsburgh. For this we are grateful to God and to the members and friends of our Church.“
On November 30th the OCA announced:
“'In an effort to address the immediate needs of those whose lives have been most affected by the tragic events of September 11, we have asked clergy and laity from the New York City and Washington, DC areas to serve on the committee,’ according to Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor.
The committee has been entrusted with overseeing the distribution of funds and with ensuring that every dollar contributed to the special appeal will be distributed to those in need.”
The Commission, as it became known, meet only once, on February 28, 2002, and
“....selected one specific fund [ASYMCA] assisting Pentagon survivors to receive a $25,000 grant, to be presented personally by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, during his Paschal visit to Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC.
Commission members also agreed to distribute funds to three firehouses in lower Manhattan and a fourth in Woodside. Two firehouses, which lost a total of 11 men, will receive $35,000. A third firehouse, at which six firefighters perished, will receive $20,000, while a fourth, which lost one firefighter, will receive $10,000.
Commission members further decided that civilian victims should receive $5,000 to $10,000 each, depending on their particular circumstances and needs. A percentage of the funds will be earmarked for ongoing needs, especially psychological counseling for those affected by the attacks.
Members of the Commission will meet again in May to review further updates and address ongoing needs.....”
In April 2002 Metropolitan Theodosius, in one of his last official acts before his retirement, amid great publicity, handed a $25,000 check from the Emergency Relief Fund to the ASYMCA in Washington, DC. It was the last anyone outside Syosset was to see or hear of the 9/11 Funds for four years. The Commission would never meet again. The remaining $260,000, as with so many funds in Syosset during this time, would just “disappear”.
Questions Are Raised
In January 2006, OCANews.org raised the question of where the remaining $260,000 had gone.
(Read that story here)
The question was met with silence from Syosset, and derision from the then-Bishop of San Francisco, Tikhon. The Bishop seemed to deny an appeal for Emergency Relief Funds had ever been conducted by the OCA. In reply to the questions raised by OCANews.org +Tikhon wrote: “If anyone had asked me I’d have said that parishes were advised to send directly either to IOCC or someone else, and that the resulting estimate of about $285,000 was an estimate reported from that (sic) organization or another one. I hope someone kept a flyer or copy of an appeal letter, as well as the announcement about that $285,000 figure.”
OCANews.org went the Bishop one better. Quoting the “Office of Development Report presented to the 13th All-American Council held July 21 - 26, 2002 in Orlando, Florida”, OCANews.org offered evidence that on page 49, of that document, the OCA itself had admitted “ $285,201 was collected for “World Trade Center Disaster Relief” through Church-wide Initiatives.” (Read that article here.)
The Pace Quickens
A week later, in February 2006, OCANews.org was able to report in the second part of its series “The Culture of Fear, Half-Truth and Deception” that: “Nowhere in the statement of financial position as of December 31, 2003 of the OCA is any mention made of a balance of funds for the 9/11 Emergency Appeal. This means that those were either fully distributed, the publicly stated documents are just wrong, or they just disappeared...”
The money was not distributed - it had disappeared, and here was evidence that the public documents of the OCA were false. Confronted with such growing evidence of financial misdeeds, priests and laity of the OCA began to demand answers of both the Chancellor and Metropolitan. By March 2006 the Chancellor, Robert Kondratick, was dismissed, and Metropolitan Herman announced an audit would be done of accounts from 2005 and 2006. No mention, though, was made of accounts from 2001 or 2002.
But in May 2006 the OCA tacitly recognized the omission by assuming a $1.7 million debt to cover the monies that had “disappeared” during the Kondratick era. As the press release explained:
“The monies will be used, in part to repay the following sums taken from temporarily restricted accounts (Charity, Mission and Special Appeals) since 2001. These include, but are not limited to:
$36, 640 taken from the Beslan Childrens' Fund
$10,000 taken from the Alaska Medical Fund
$3,000 taken from the Alaska Parishes Fund
$87,560 taken from the Mission Appeal
$41,750 taken from the Charity Appeal
$16,600 taken from the Annual Christmas Stocking Appeal
$90,590 taken from the 9/11 Fund
Why the difference?
OCANews.org had reported some $260,000 was “missing” - but Syosset, that is Metropolitan Herman and OCA Acting Treasurer (and de facto Chancellor), Fr. Paul Kucynda, would only admit to some $90,000 missing. Why the difference?
It would take 15 months for Syosset to reveal the reason - and then for less than an hour. On September 16, 2007 a press release entitled “ Summary Report of the Preliminary Report of the Special Investigative Committee and the Proceedings of the Spiritual Court for Robert Kondratick” was posted for about 45
minutes on OCA.org before it was taken down.
During that brief interval the OCA revealed that: “Despite meeting face-to-face five or six times with the accountants from Lambrides, Robert Kondratick could not provide them with the name of one 9/11 victim or parish who received any of the $176,500 allegedly distributed.”
At last the OCA publicly revealed that according to Kondratick, he had already distributed, privately, $176,000+ of the 9/11 Funds. There was no physical evidence that he had done so - but in the opinion of Fr. Kucynda, no evidence that he had not. Therefore, given the precarious finances of the OCA in 2006-07 Fr. Kucynda asserted that the OCA was obligated to repay $90,000 of the missing monies - not $260,000.
Metropolitan Council Balks
A re-invigorated Metropolitan Council would have none of it. Metropolitan Herman subsequently dismissed Fr. Kucynda, not least of all for his role in the surreptitious release of the “Summary Report”. But months of debate ensued over whether the disputed $176,000+ was a debt or not. Metropolitan Herman stonewalled, even as new Council members, most notably new MC Charities Chairman, Fr. John Reeves, refused to look the other way.
This resistance came to include the new Treasurer, Fr. Michael Tassos, as well. By May 2008 the Minutes of the MC revealed the Council and new administration had prevailed. Fr. Tassos is quoted in those Minutes as saying:
“From my conversation with Fr. John Reeves, I learned that there is still the sum of $176,500 that is potentially outstanding. Until the issues with Robert Kondratick are resolved we will remain in limbo. I would like to suggest that we begin paying some amount of money beginning in 2008 to help repay this additional missing amount. If we ever collect from Mr. Kondratick or if he ever shows some documentation that he properly expended these funds then we can stop. My suggestion is that we start by paying $25,000 this year.”
For the first time the OCA administration was publicly admitting that the additional $176,500 in 9/11 donations remained to be disbursed. The Minutes then record:
“9.4. MOTION [re: initiating payments to the 9/11 Emergency Fund] G. Nescott/Fr. M. Sherman: That the OCA begin disbursing the balance of the 9/11 appeal monies collected, with the first $25,000 being disbursed as a general line item this fiscal year. CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY.”
But even with this victory, members of the Council, led by Fr. Reeves, would not stop until the entire debt was paid. It was a moral obligation, whether or not the monies could ever be recovered from Kondratick. Thus, in November 2008, at a meeting immediately preceding the All-American Council, the Metropolitan Council voted unanimously again to repay the full amount from the unrestricted Endowment Funds of the OCA, rather than wait for the outcome of any lawsuit against Kondratick.
And so on Friday, December 12th, 2008, seven years after the money was collected, the remaining monies were finally given to the victims of 9/11 as the donors intended. A great wrong against widows and orphans by those pledged to defend them has finally been made right, to the extent it could be, even if it cost the Church part of its endowment. Nothing more could be asked of the OCA; but nothing less should ever have been expected.
- Mark Stokoe