Update: Families accuse church of withholding bingo scholarship money

Posted at: 01/31/2013 3:08 PM
Updated at: 01/31/2013 7:34 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

Think about who or what you trust.

Your family?

Your friends?

Your church?

Dozens of families told us they were cut off from thousands of dollars in scholarship money they've earned for their children and they say the entity that did it was their own church.

After months of trying to talk with their priest and the parish, some of the parishioners called the us and we got some answers for them.

These parishioners love their church but they hate what's been going on. For years they volunteered at bingo helping to raise money for St. John the Evangelist in Greece. In return they earned scholarship credits for their children -- money to off-set tuition at catholic schools and colleges.

They said, for years, each credit was worth $250.
But the parishioners tell us -- when a new priest came in last year he shut the bingo down and the parish wouldn't give them the money. But after we contacted the diocese, things started to change.

It's a Friday night at Bingo World in Greece. Linda DiCecca is running the board. For years Linda volunteered here because it earned her scholarship money for her children.

"It goes towards my child's education. I depend on it," DiCecca said.

But when the bingo was shut down in the fall, Linda says she was told by St. John the Evangelist parish that she wasn't entitled to the money.

"We've already put forth the effort. We've already worked and it's involved time on our part and effort and we're being dismissed," she said.

Linda isn't alone. She says it's affecting about 70 families who volunteered at bingo, including Tammy Mardo's.

"I feel that they let a lot of us down because a lot of people are struggling to put their kids through catholic schools," Mardo said.

And Lori Garcea's.

"We did our part. We came. We volunteered. We did what we said we were going to do and I believe that they need to do what they said they were going to do," Garcea said.

The families say the problem started when Father Peter Enyan-Boadu arrived last summer. They say he shut the bingo down in late September and when the volunteers called News10NBC last month, the volunteers say they still hadn't been paid the scholarship money they earned between July and September.

"It's $250 a credit times 10 credits," Mardo said.  

"Probably about $1,600," DiCecca said.

The church response

We had some questions for Father Peter but in an email, the Diocese of Rochester said the priest "respectfully declines your invitation to comment." The diocese also refused to talk but in the same email wrote "all those who file the proper paperwork will receive the credit due to them."

The parishioners did get their scholarship money for the first six months of 2012, but not until October.

Just look at the receipts we got from the families. It shows -- in the past -- scholarship checks for the first half of the year were cut in mid-July and by the end of the December for the second half of the year. The families say they've filled out the proper forms and took attendance at every bingo.

"I came in, i worked for it. i came in on Friday nights, Saturday nights, gave up time with my family and I just, I don't think it's morally ethical for them to do what they're doing and they should have the highest ethics out of anybody," DiCecca said.

News10NBC contacted the parish and the diocese about this story exactly one week ago and we told them the story was airing Thursday. Two days ago the volunteers were notified by the parish that the money was ready.

But the problem isn't over.

The volunteers tells us the parish is giving them about $60 a credit instead of the usual $250 a credit. We talked to some of the volunteers today and they say they are not accepting the checks.

Lesson learned

The lesson is get everything in writing, even with institutions or people you trust. The bingo went on for more than 30 years. The parish and volunteers have been doing the scholarship thing for almost that long, but there was no contract, just an understanding. The parishioners tell me they wish they had something in writing.