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Ohio Priest Charged in Scheme to Defraud Three Churches of More than $250,000

pexels-visionpic-net-343416-300x199The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio has announced charges against a priest accused of defrauding three churches of more than $250,000.

Andrey Kovalenko, 52, of Bedford, OH, is charged with 10 counts of mail fraud. It is unclear if has acquired the services of an attorney.

According to the indictment, the accused from Ohio is a Russian Orthodox priest who was employed as the director of the Shrine of Mariapoch in Burton, OH, from May 2014 to June 2015. He was also reportedly employed by Saint John Hungarian Byzantine Catholic Church (SJHBCC)) in Solon, OH, and Saint Eugene Byzantine Catholic Church (SEBCC) in Bedford Heights, OH, from January 2015 to July 2018.

The priest’s positions in those institutions purportedly gave him access to several bank accounts, debit cards, and checks. From May 2014 to June 2015, he allegedly embezzled approximately $35,686 from Shrine of Mariapoch bank accounts and used them for prohibited personal expenses, such as online shopping, car payments, grocery shopping, and payments for automotive and department stores.

He continued the alleged fraud when he was employed by SEBCC. From January 2015 to July 2018, he allegedly embezzled an estimated $188,000 from SEBCC bank accounts as well as fees for the rental of the church’s hall for weddings and other events. He used the funds for similar personal expenses, including groceries, luxury items, a metal detector, a Sirius radio subscription, and more.

From SJHBCC, the Russian Orthodox priest is accused of embezzling approximately $70,000 and using a debit card while traveling in Florida and Georgia for over $2,000 worth of personal expenses. In total, he was able to acquire approximately $293,989 from the three churches’ bank accounts for his own personal use, the indictment claims. The financial losses SEBCC suffered because of the alleged scheme forced the church to shut down, sources indicate.

“This defendant is accused of using his position as a priest to embezzle funds intended to serve his parishioners and the community,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “The defendant’s alleged embezzlement was so wide-ranging that at least one local parish suffered financial ruin. He must now answer for these actions in federal court.”

The mail fraud charges stem from claims that from May 2014 to July 2018, the Russian priest used the USPS and other interstate carriers to execute the alleged fraud scheme. The Department of Justice press release announcing the charges against him noted that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The accused is entitled to a fair trial and is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

On October 22, 2018, the Eparchy of Parma released a statement announcing that the priest had been terminated from his position:

“Father Andrey Kovalenko (aka Father Andrey Smith) has been unlawfully absent from his assignment. He is being investigated for financial improprieties. Subsequently, he has been relieved of all pastoral duties, his faculties have been restricted and he is not suitable for any ministry.”

South Florida Fraud Defense Attorney

Are you accused of committing financial crimes in South Florida? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation with one of South Florida’s most experienced fraud defense attorneys.

Source: 11.20.20 Bedford priest charged in scheme to defraud church of more than $250,000.pdf

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