A Freeport contractor allegedly stole more than $110,000 from a Mineola church that hired him to build a new sanctuary in 2014, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced Wednesday.
Grace International Assembly of God, located at 172 Willis Ave, hired Gennaro Festa, 72, to build the new structure on May 14, 2014, Singas said.
Festa allegedly stole a $116,760 check made out by the church on May 29, 2014, spending it on personal goods instead of paying his contacted steel manufacturer, Singas said in a press release.
Festa’s attorney Richard Benson denies the prosecutor’s allegations, and said Festa spent all money given to him on the project.
Festa was arraigned before Judge Elizabeth Fox-McDonough on Tuesday and released on his own recognizance. He is charged with second degree grand larceny and first degree scheme to defraud.
Festa is due back in court on Sept. 21.
Benson said Festa has pled not guilty.
As the investigation continues it will show that all the money Festa received went into the project “wherever the project required money to go,” Benson said.
“He inherited a grossly, badly planned project and grossly mismanaged project, and he made every effort to savage the project,” Benson said in an interview. “In the end we believe we will prevail.”
Efforts to reach Grace International Assembly of God were unavailing.
Benson said the project was two years behind when Festa stepped in.
According to the district attorney, the project has stalled and as of July 2018 the new structure is unfinished and exposed to the elements.
Between June 2014 and March 2017 Festa attended church meetings and assured attendees he had the steel in storage, prosecutors said.
Festa also allegedly submitted at least 12 certificates falsely indicating he had obtained and was storing the steel, prosecutors said.
The church contacted the steel supplier in January 2017 and was notified the steel had not been ordered, paid for or delivered to a storage location, according to prosecutors.
“This contractor is accused of defrauding a house of worship by stealing more than $110,000 that was earmarked for a new sanctuary,” Singas said in a release. “Contractors who disregard the law will be held accountable for their crimes.”
Singas added that anyone who feels they have “been targeted by unscrupulous contractor” should contact her office at (516) 571-7755 to report the incident.
The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office started an investigation in May 2017 after church leaders filed a complaint with the office.
Senior Assistant District Attorney April Montgomery of the financial crimes bureau is prosecuting the case.