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11.6.09
TROJAN WARS

• Amid Hints of Tax Problems, Parish President

   Now Suggests Internal Audit
• Council Then Dismisses Samra, Thomas
• Fr. Badeen, Former Pastor, Confirms He Told Samra

  St. George Towers had $1M CD

Amid a flurry of letters, irenic, angry and notarized, the battle in St. George parish, Troy MI, over questions concerning parish finances raised by the former parish Treasurer, Mr. George Samra, continues.

Norgrove’s Letter

After three months of public and private turmoil, Mr. Neil Norgrove, parish President has taken a page from Metropolitan Philip and suggested the embattled parish now undergo an internal audit. In a written proposal to the Parish Council at their recent meeting on October 29th, Norgrove advocates four steps to resolve the financial questions that have plagued the flagship parish. Norgrove writes:

To my Clergy and fellow council members,

With your support and support of many parishioners, I was elected to be a leader of this council and of this parish. While my lack of strong leadership skills may have contributed to the current strife we face, this proposal is my final attempt to help lift us from the abyss of disharmony, mistrust and climate of hatred that has prevailed for the past three months:

1. Clergy to administer Holy Communion to Mr. Thomas and Mr. Samra with their commitment to avoid subversive actions. Mr. Khalife must refrain from any and all intimidating actions within our Holy Church. These three items have dismayed many parishioners.

2. Mr. Thomas, Mr. Samra, Mr. Khalife, Fr. Joseph, Fr. Ayman and I will stand before the general parish at our November 22nd meeting, and I will issue a general apology from all of us regarding “certain actions we may have taken to the detriment of St George”, with a commitment to achieve our common goals.

3. Conduct an internal audit for Church, Banquet Hall and Towers, consisting of three board members and three members of the general parish, as per Archdiocese recommendations reached during last week’s Houston meeting.

4. Formation of a separate legal business entity to operate the banquet facility, which would lease the premises from St George Church, and pay rent and management fees accordingly. The new entity would be responsible to charge and pay applicable sales taxes, retain a payroll company to process, file and pay required state and federal taxes, as well as workmen’s compensation insurance.

For two years Father Joseph has asked and insisted that he be relieved of the business duties of St George so that he may tend to his pastoral duties. It is my strong belief that we do not have enough dedicated or qualified parish members to handle the everyday business of the Church, banquet hall and Towers (myself included). In spite of some issues, Father Joseph has been, and is a wonderful leader, and I remain his strong supporter. Further, this matter requires immediate resolution for our physical health as well as our spiritual health and that of the St George Parish.

Most Sincerely,
Neal Norgrove, Chairman”

Samra’s Response

George Samra, the embattled, excommunicated former Treasurer of the parish, describes what happened next at the meeting in an October 3st letter sent by email:

“On Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009, David Thomas and I, George Samra, were formally voted off the Parish Council at St. George in Troy; I as Treasurer, and David as a Council Member.

The vote was a mere formality, since the position of treasurer was filled weeks ago and David and I were very publicly excommunicated from the Sacraments months ago, at which time the pastor Fr. Antypas, soundly and repeatedly damned our character and fitness to serve and commune at St. George.

At Thursday’s meeting, Council Chairman Neal Norgrove distributed a one-page proposal, citing the possibility that he himself lacks “strong leadership skills” which he admits, “may have contributed to the parish’s current strife.” He offered four proposals to “lift us from the abyss of disharmony of mistrust and climate of hatred.” At that meeting, Neal also said no one had reviewed his letter prior to its release to us.

The proposal is attached. Here are some highlights:

• David and I are to receive Holy Communion if we promise to avoid “subversive actions.”

• David and I, Fr. Ayman, Fr. Antypas and Whalid Khalife will stand before the parish at the General Parish Council meeting on Nov. 22 and Neal will issue an apology on everyone’s behalf regarding “certain actions we may have taken to the detriment of St. George.”

• An internal audit will be conducted on the Church, Banquet Hall and St. George Towers conducted by three board members and three members of the general parish. He cites recent Archdiocesan recommendations made in Texas, aimed at establishing parameters for an Archdiocesan audit.

• The formation of a separate legal business entity to lease from St. George and operate the banquet hall, ensure taxes are charged and paid, to retain a payroll company to process file and pay required state and federal taxes and workman’s compensation insurance.

Neal goes on to write that Fr. Antypas has repeatedly asked to be relieved of the business duties of St. George so as to tend to pastoral duties at the Church.

At Thursday’s meeting which Neal chaired, members of the Council without sanctions erupted verbally and repeatedly from their seats with vitriol aimed at me. Whenever I wanted to talk, it was characterized as “old news.” Fr. Antypas and his son-in-law, the associate pastor Fr. Ayman stood, shouted, pointed, and called me a “liar” regarding conversations I reported having with the former Pastor Fr. John Badeen, and $1 million in CDs Fr. Badeen said he left with the then Council Treasurer at St. George in 1985. These monies were explicitly allocated for the St. George Towers. The pair charged that I “made the whole thing up” and shouted “You lied!” Fr. Ayman said he’d spoken with Fr. Badeen that very day, had recorded the conversation, and offered to get the tape. Yet, no tape was produced, nor did Neal ask for it.

Regarding Neal’s letter, subversion is a loaded word. Webster’s Dictionary says it is a “systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine, or work from within to undermine or overturn or overthrow; to corrupt by undermining; to ruin.” Everything I’ve done has been public, and for this, I have been damned and excommunicated.

In conversation I had with Neal as Chairman of the Council, I sought to bring a number of issues to light and to the Council table. He did not act on them. I also spoke with Fr. Antypas, with the same results. My questions have been very public and very much on the record. I cannot and will not admit to something I have not done, and certainly not in an effort to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. To lie is to sin, and to sin in order to receive Christ is morally wrong and counter intuitive to all that his good and right and just and what I believe. It is not what the Holy Orthodox Church teaches, it is not how we are called to live, and, I will NOT do it.

In his capacity as Chairman and a leader in the faith community of St. George, Neal has had a number of opportunities in very public settings to quash and end un-Christ-like behavior from some members of the Council. He has not. In fact, at meetings he chairs and at which I have attended, it is not unusual for there to be physical eruptions, threats, cursing, personal attacks and more. His silence speaks volumes.

At September’s Council meeting Neal publicly offered some opaque comments and by suggestion, indicated the parish of St. George is in some kind of tax trouble. I have asked publicly, in fact in letters to the Metropolitan, Bishop Mark, Fr. Antypas and the Council – whether taxes have been paid on the hall, what kind of taxes are being paid for employees, and how and who is making deductions, along with a long list of even broader, and far-reaching questions. It is interesting that only now, is there talk about hiring a management company for the hall, with discussion about who will pay sales tax, process payroll and pay federal and state taxes and now, Workers Compensation.

I wonder what kind of tax trouble we have? The inference from Neal’s proposal is that applicable sales tax, required State and Federal tax, and Workers Compensation has not been paid. If this is the case, how much has been left unpaid, and what is owed? And if owed, what will it mean to the finances of St. George when we are already having difficulty meeting our obligations.?

As Treasurer, I asked to see the Social Hall accounts and was denied. There has been some discussion at the council level about Fr. Ayman formally managing the Social Hall, through his company, Omega Productions. Hall management has been Fr. Ayman’s responsibility. A letter released November 10, 2008 at our Parish’s last annual meeting, written by Michael D. McLennan, P.C., CPA , Detroit, wrote”…Management has elected to omit the statement of cash flows and substantially all the disclosures required by generally accepted accounting principles. If the omitted disclosures were included in the financial statement, they might influence the user’s conclusions about the corporation’s financial position, results of operations, and cash flows. Accordingly, these financial statements are not designed for those who are not informed about such matters.” If taxes are not an issue, clearly Neal can produce the appropriate paperwork to dispel questions.

Also, Neal said no one had been privy to his letter before its distribution this past Thursday. Yet, as a layman, he is not in a position to determine what criteria needs to met, for me to be formally reinstated as a member of St. George, and in communion with the Church. He has much power as Parish Council Chairman, but not that kind of power.

Fr. Antypas may have asked to have the day-to-day business operations removed from his sphere of responsibility as Neal’s letter indicates, but his actions did not reflect that. I was present two afternoons a week, Sunday and Wednesday to co-sign checks that needed to me mailed out to creditors. Yet, Fr. Antypas signed the name of our former treasurer, who passed away two years earlier, repeatedly on days I was not at the Church, and mailed out checks. Even given 10 days to pay a bill, I was there often and regularly, and all could have been done properly, and in a timely manner. Fr. Antypas would not, despite repeated requests, give me as Treasurer access to all the accounts, he resented questions asked about how and why things were done and if I made inquiries as Treasurer of the Council and St. George Towers, he became incensed and in fact, this led to my excommunication.

As for an internal audit, what three members of the Council have a professional financial and auditing background? And what exactly does that mean? Did they keep the books for a family restaurant or do they have a long and storied career at Plante Moran? And who will be in charge of selecting the three members of the parish at-large and ditto, what will be the criteria for their selection?

The people of St. George who for years have given at great financial sacrifice to support and grow the parish they love - deserve a professional external audit. An internal audit does not have the power, impact, clarity or transparency that an independent external forensic audit carries.

It takes courage, commitment and faith to relinquish the kind of control that is destroying this parish to resolve questions of impropriety and trust. Men and women of character would put their Church before their own personal feelings or fears, something that is long absent here.

Yours in Christ,
George D. Samra”

Norgrove’s letter and proposals, the Council’s subsequent action and Samra’s continued questioning only confuse the situation at St. George even more. Will an internal audit, if held, give confidence to questioning members if those auditing are appointed by the one whose actions gave rise to the audit? How many times can one be removed from a parish Council? Why would a priest vote not to remove members from the Council that he himself excommunicated?

Morever, what provisions are there in the parish constitution for the removal of a Council member?

Only the answer to the last is clear: neither the Council nor the priest have constitutional authority to remove Council members. Only the Bishop may set aside those provisions, by virtue of his taking canonical action - and Bishop Mark of Toledo, the diocesan Bishop, has taken no such action.

Fr. Badeen’s Letter

One other question can be resolved as well. In his letter to the parish, Samra claimed: ”Fr. Antypas and his son-in-law, the associate pastor Fr. Ayman stood, shouted, pointed, and called me a “liar” regarding conversations I reported having with the former Pastor Fr. John Badeen, and $1 million in CDs Fr. Badeen said he left with the then Council Treasurer at St. George in 1985. These monies were explicitly allocated for the St. George Towers. The pair charged that I “made the whole thing up” and shouted “You lied!” Fr. Ayman said he’d spoken with Fr. Badeen that very day, had recorded the conversation, and offered to get the tape. Yet, no tape was produced, nor did Neal ask for it.”

There is now noneed for a mystery tape to resolve these competing claims, for Fr. Badeen has weighed in, with a three page notarized letter, addressed to Fr. Antypas. Fr Badeen, now in Beaumont TX, was pastor of St. George’s from 1971-1985, during which time the St. George Tower was built. He confirms what  Samra has claimed when he writes:

In 1985 because of health reasons, I asked to be transferred back to my old parish in Beaumont Texas....Shortly before my departure, I called Mr. George Farris, the Church Treasurer, who of course was also the St. George Tower Treasurer, and asked to come to the Church office. He came and we went to the safe and took out the Tower CD’s. We listed them by number, date, and amount and date of maturity. We made two copies. He signed one copy with statement acknowledging receipt of same, which he gave to me. The total was in excess of $1M."

Later in his letter Fr. Badeen writes:

"These are the facts as I remember them and pretty much tell the whole story. I gave the above information to George Samra and pretty much the same to Fr. Ayman...”

He concludes:


One further point I wish to make, one of the callers berated me for saying George Samra lied. I made no such statement. It was further stated that I said George had never met with me. This is also wrong, as I stated above, he did meet with me.”


(You can read Fr. Badeen’s full letter here.)

The battle for accountability, transparency and openness continues at St. George’s in Troy.

- Mark Stokoe

 
 

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