More Mysteries Develop In Church Scandal – QNS.com

More Mysteries Develop In Church Scandal

The shocking scandal involving a Forest Hills priest allegedly stealing millions from a prominent Queens Catholic Church sent further controversial waves through the borough this week when it was reported that for years, the former priest, Monsignor Thomas Gradilone made almost daily visits and payoffs to George Schweigert, an ex-con who may have been blackmailing him.
The stunning announcement of the grand robbery was made last week when Bishop Thomas Daily told the parishioners attending the Sunday Masses at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills that Gradilone, 75, may have been involved in diverting approximately $2 million of the church’s money to inappropriate sources. He told them that he had not received a satisfatory answer by Gradilone regarding the missing cash and that the case had been handed over to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
The crowd was stunned and bewildered how a man with such a past full of pride and integrity could have been involved in such a corrupt and unscrupulous scandal. The details revealed throughout the week undoubtedly continued to shock them.
Joseph Velsor, Schweigert’s cousin who shared a Woodhaven apartment with him during the time of the alleged exchange, recalls that Gradilone made regular visits at all times of the night and at one point overheard the priest tell Schweigert that he was "draining him." Velsor claims not to know the reasons for the monetary deliveries, but assumes it was some type of blackmail. When questioned, Gradilone claimed he was making charitable contributions, but Velsor remembers that the money went toward clothes, a keyboard, rent, and a brand new TV.
Another of Gradilone’s controversial associates was Frank Vivona, who has been incarcerated for grand larceny and assault on several occasions. According to several neighbors of Gradilone’s summer home in Mastic Beach, Long Island, Vivona appeared to exert control and was often abusive toward the priest, although Gradilone claims he was trying to help Vivona with his problems.
According to sources, it was an unidentified priest who told the higher church authorities that Gradilone was giving money to two mysterious men every week. Once the priest was implicated, an internal audit was underway to discover the disappearance of parish funds. Law enforcement authorities say at least $2 million is missing, but church sources claim the actual losses may be as high as $8 million.
What they also found was that in 1994, the monsignor opened a secret bank account in the name of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs at a bank a few blocks down Queens Boulevard from the Forest Hills church. By the time church officials discovered the account this February, all of the funds had been cleared. However, records that church officials and an accounting firm have been digging up over the past several months reveal that approximately $2 million had moved through the Sterling National Bank account.
What makes this shadowy case even more mysterous, is that Gradilone was never thought of as a shady man. The Ridgewood-born priest has been a Queens fixture since he was appointed the Academic Dean at New Cathedral College in Douglaston in 1967. He had become a leader in interdenominational relations in the community, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Queens Public Borough Library and monsignor of the Forest Hills Church from 1976 until he retired last January. Everyone seemed to love and respect the priest who always went out of his way to help people.
In 1988, when an emotionally distraught father held his infant out the window of his seventh-floor Queens apartment, Gradilone did not hesitate, as he put on a bulletproof vest and joined the police hostage negotiators. He eventually helped calm the man, convincing him to turn over the child unharmed and surrender to the police.
"He’s such an extremely gifted man," Gradilone’s sister-in-law Carola Gradilone, 81, told reporters. "He’s been such a wonderful priest and had such a wonderful career. Did something happen in the last few years? I don’t know. We are sick about this and devastated."
Gradilone is currently in seclusion and, through his lawyer Al Gaudelli, has refused to talk to authorities or the press. According to Sherry Hunter of the District Attorney’s Office, the case remains under investigation and they have yet to release any details on their findings

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