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Bedford priest indicted in mail fraud scheme to defraud church of more than $250,000

Andrey Kovalenko, age 52, was charged with 10 counts of mail fraud taking place from 2014 through 2018.
Credit: Parma.org

CLEVELAND — U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced on Friday that 52-year-old Andrey Kovalenko, formerly of Bedford, has been indicted and charged with 10 counts of mail fraud by a grand jury and defrauding the church out of nearly $300,000.

According to the indictment, Kovalenko is an ordained Russian Orthodox priest and was employed as the Director of Shrine of Mariapoch (SOM) in Burton from May 2014 to June 2015. Kovalenko was also gainfully employed as the Administrator and Pastor of Saint John Hungarian Byzantine Catholic Church (SJHBCC) in Solon and Saint Eugene Byzantine Catholic Church (SEBCC) in Bedford Heights from January 2015 through July 2018.

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These positions allowed Kovalenko access to several bank accounts, checks and debit cards associated with the the institutions that employed him. The Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, which presided over the previously mentioned parishes, had established guidelines for eligible reimbursements for priests and administrators.

Kovalenko has been charged with embezzling approximately $35,686.97 from SOM bank accounts from on or around May 16, 2014 until on or about June 15, 2015 for personal expenses including groceries, car payments and shopping at department stores.

Additionally, from January 2015 through July 2018, Kovalenko allegedly embezzled approximately $70,404.32 from SJHBCC bank accounts for similar personal expenses. Over the same time period, Kovalenko is also accused of embezzling $1877,898.38 from SEBCC bank accounts for expenses including, but not limited to, payments to an online firearm and ammunition sales company, automobile dealers, groceries, department stores, online music services and more. 

In total, Kovalenko is accused of defrauding SOM, SJHBCC and SEBCC of approximately $293,989 for his own personal expenses. As a result of his actions, SEBCC shuttered due to its financial condition. 

The indictment alleges that from May 16, 2014 through July 31, 2018, Kovalenko utilized the United States Postal Service and private and commercial interstate carriers to carry out his scheme to defraud the church.

On October 22, 2018, the Eparchy of Parma released a statement saying Kovalenko had been relieved of his pastoral duties. 

"Father Andrey Kovalenko (aka Father Andrey Smith) has been unlawfully absent from his assignment. He is being investigated for financial improprieties. Subsequently, he has been relieved of all pastoral duties, his faculties have been restricted and he is not suitable for any ministry."

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The below story aired on November 18, 2020