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Greek Church Refuses to Pay Broker Fee in Lucrative School Deal: Lawsuit

By Katie Honan | August 8, 2017 6:13pm | Updated on August 9, 2017 7:42am
 George Rivera sued Transfiguration Church for breach of contract. 
George Rivera sued Transfiguration Church for breach of contract. 
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — A real estate agent is suing a local Greek church claiming he's owed more than $560,000 in broker fees and commission after he convinced the city's School Construction Authority to pay the church higher rent to use one of its properties for public classrooms.

After he negotiated the higher rate, the church agreed to a slightly lower rent in order to avoid paying his fee, he claims.

George Rivera, the principal Broker for East Hudson Realty in Astoria, says he began working with Transfiguration Church on 98th Street and 38th Avenue in Corona in 2014, according to the lawsuit filed last week in Queens Civil Court.

His job was to get the church a better deal on its two-story building when they went to renew with the School Construction Authority.

They'd been working with the city since 2011 to lease the school as an annex to the overcrowded P.S. 143 — but were unable to get an annual lease above $450,000, the suit claims.

Rivera signed on to work with them, and he was guaranteed thousands of dollars if he could get a lease of at least $600,000 a year.

He said he worked with local politicians, including Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, State Sen. Jose Peralta and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and the community to convince the School Construction Authority to agree to a lease of $625,000 a year in February 2015, with an increase over the next five years.

Representatives for the elected officials did not respond to a request to confirm any meetings.

But church officials later killed the deal to avoid paying him his agreed upon fee — putting up "deliberate and legitimate" delays to stop it, the suit claims.

When the church's president stepped down after an argument with top priest Father George Anastasiou — who is also an NYPD chaplain — over the lease, the church's new parish council started questioning Rivera's credentials, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also claimed a parish council member sabotaged the deal because he was "outraged at [Rivera] because his proposal successfully bested his by $175,000."

Parishioners said the Archdiocese Audit Committee, which would need to approve the lease, "would never approve the lease renewal agreement if Mr. Rivera's commission was not renegotiated or eliminated."

They offered him a flat fee of $70,000, telling him to "take it or leave it," Rivera said in the suit. He didn't take it, claiming he was supposed to make thousands of dollars more than that to get them a better lease. 

The church later signed a lease agreement with SCA of $595,000 for the first year — $30,000 less than what Rivera had negotiated, and just low enough it didn't trigger his commission.

Rivera is now suing the church, saying they benefited from the work he did to secure a higher lease, and also didn't tell SCA they used a broker to obtain it, the suit says. 

"The church has been the beneficiary of a higher lease renewal than they would have gotten, without the efforts of Mr. Rivera, thus breaching their agreement with Mr. Rivera, as well as committing fraud and violating the implied covenant of good faith dealings," his lawyer, Spero Andreopoulos, wrote in the suit.

Anastasiou told DNAinfo he had not seen the suit, and declined to comment. A spokesman for SCA said they would not comment on an open case.

A spokeswoman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America did not return a call seeking comment.

Transfiguration Church opened in 1958, as the Greek population in Corona and Jackson Heights was at its peak. It was gutted by a fire on May 19, and masses are now celebrated at the school's gym across the street, according to its website.