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NY pastor accused of unlawfully selling historic church property where Malcolm X was eulogized

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Getty Images/Cristian Bortes/EyeEm

A New York pastor has been accused of selling his church property to an inexperienced developer while wrongfully gaining $900,000 as part of the deal, according to a recently filed complaint.

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a complaint against Bishop Kevin Griffin last week in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. At issue was Griffin’s selling of the property of Childs Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ, a historic Harlem house of worship where Malcolm X was eulogized six days after his assassination in 1965.

According to the preliminary statement of the complaint, Griffin allegedly “steered his Church to sell its sanctuary to the Developer, who had no prior track record with church development deals.”

“The Developer received title to the Church’s property in exchange for $2 million in cash, construction of a new $2.5 million facility for the Church, and future income of approximately $1.2 million,” stated the complaint.

“But at the same time, Defendant established a personal financial relationship with the Developer, which yielded him nearly $900,000 in benefits.”

The complaint argued that the sale Griffin oversaw was “based on false filings that concealed his financial relationship and overt conflict of interest” from authorities, including the Attorney General's Office, which by state law must provide approval of the sale.

“Griffin signed Childs Memorial’s Verified Petition for approval of the transaction, which he knew was false because the Petition did not disclose, as required, that Griffin was receiving benefits personally from the Developer or that a substantial portion of the sale proceeds were going to be paid to Griffin,” continued the complaint.

“Griffin’s self-interested conduct has caused substantial harm to his Church and its congregants. Both before and after the closing, Defendant allowed the Developer to renege on, modify, and extend terms of the deal, without consequence, and without obtaining Court or OAG approval.”

The sale, which had taken place in 2014, came as the historic building was falling into disrepair. The church building, originally the Bluebird Theater, was eventually demolished in 2018. As of this month, no replacement building has been constructed, according to Patch.com.

The Childs Memorial congregation has since held worship services at a local storefront, while a proposal to build apartments on the site has been delayed.

Griffin's bio page describes him as possessing "extraordinary acumen in business, overseeing a 10 million dollar development project which includes a new 10,000 square feet church home for Childs Memorial Temple and a 137-unit shelter for battered women and their children."

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