Two Harlem religious leaders are fighting to reclaim ownership of their church after a team of unscrupulous developers defrauded them of their holy house, the pastors alleged in a lawsuit filed late last year in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
“I look back and I can see the evilness of the whole thing,” said the Rev. Shirley Sulton, who leads the Samuel’s Temple Church of God in Christ along with her son, Pastor Tyrone Holmes. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The church on 125th St. near Park Ave. was struggling to make repairs to a leaky roof when attorney Saadia Shapiro and his wife Marla, of Parade Place LLC, came along. The Brooklyn-based developers told Holmes they wanted to put a 12-story mixed-use building on the four parcels owned by the church.
The agreement, reached in 2006, would have paid the church $2.5 million and set aside space for the congregation inside the new development, Holmes said.
The pastors transferred the deed for the church to the developers, and the Shapiros took out a $1.95 million mortgage on the church, said Holmes, adding that they eventually extracted $4 million in equity and never developed the property.
Sulton, 73, and Holmes, 46, charge that the developers violated the terms of the agreement, which required them to execute the development before they could take out a mortgage.
Saadia Shapiro did not respond to a request for comment.
The project was supposed to be completed in 2011, but Parade Place filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and the following year the bank it borrowed from, LibertyPointe, became the first in the city to fail in 11 years.
Before state regulators shut down LibertyPointe for reasons that included unsound lending practices, the bank tried to foreclose on the Shapiros’ mortgage.
LibertyPointe’s accounts were later transferred to Jersey-based Valley National Bank.
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SOURCE: New York Daily News