Ruling states leaders of Avon church must repay $623K
ELYRIA — Dissident members of an Avon church who waged a nine-year legal fight because of concerns about how the church leadership was spending bingo money won their court fight Wednesday.
Visiting Judge Lynett McGough ordered five of the six defendants in the case to repay St. Clement of Ohrid Macedonian Orthodox Church $241,242 in mishandled money and $382,379 of church money they used for legal bills for a total of $623,621.
“Thank God it’s over,” said Stella Atanasovski, one of the plaintiffs, after the verdict.
But she might be rejoicing too soon.
Ed Markovich, the attorney representing the former church leadership, said his clients will appeal.
“They’re going to have to pry the money from the cold, dead hands of my clients,” he said.
Lube Kotevski and Mirco Jovanovski, two of the defendants, also vowed to keep fighting to prove they had done nothing wrong.
“How much I stole, that’s how much I’m going to give back to them — zero,” Jovanovski said.
Atanasovski and her allies, several of whom had served in the church leadership until the mid-1990s, filed their first lawsuit in 1998, in part to stop those who had replaced them from buying land in North Olmsted and moving the church.
But they had other concerns, including that the profits from weekly bingo games, which the church began running in 1990, had dropped under the new regime.
In court documents detailing her decision, McGough spelled out numerous examples of how the new regime failed in their responsibilities to oversee St. Clement’s money — including questionable payments to Kotevski’s wife, Sharon Kotevski, a $500 wedding gift to one of the defendants and $400 for buttons to wear during an Ohio Supreme Court hearing on the case.
McGough also noted more than $50,000 was not properly accounted for from the money paid out in door prizes and $128,000 in lost profits, among other problems.
Lucy Obran, one of the plaintiffs in the case, described the new regime as a “religious mafia” that used threats to answer any questions about the church’s books. Those who filed the lawsuit were excommunicated from the church, but that order later was rescinded by the archbishop of the worldwide church.
McGough did clear the defendants of allegations in the case that centered on the threats, saying that while the language was “offensive and particularly vicious,” it wasn’t actually civil assault.
Over the years, the legal battle has seesawed between the two sides, with the church members who didn’t take sides in the middle. The judgment, said the old guard’s attorney, Eric Zagrans, will help the church move forward.
“It’ll go a long way toward bringing people together and will help heal the rift,” he said.
But not all members of the church are convinced, particularly Bob Kotefski, who sided with the new regime in the fight. He complained that a third group that has run the church since the new regime was removed from power in 2003 is misspending money and that members of the old guard are terrorizing the new regime and its allies.
“We get insulted every time we go to church,” he said.
Markovich said his clients were simply trying to move St. Clement forward when they tried to buy land in North Olmsted and later in Eaton Township for a new church.
“They’ve got what looks like a bungalow in swampland in Avon that doesn’t give any glory to God or Macedonia,” he said. “It ought to be torn down or moved.”
But Obran said moving the church was a bad idea and the new regime had been gambling with the $1.3 million St. Clement had in the bank.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.