HARLEM, NY – The Harlem pastor accused of selling his church to a real estate developer – and pocketing thousands of dollars in the process – has hit back in new court filings, saying he still cares about the best interests of his church.
Bishop Kevin Griffin is senior pastor and president of Childs Memorial Church Temple of God in Christ: a house of worship in Harlem that operated for decades out of a four-story building on Amsterdam Avenue near West 147th Street.
Last fall, Attorney General Letitia James’ office sued Griffin, claiming he had secretly pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars after he struck a 2014 deal with developer Moujan Vahdat, who planned to demolish the church and construct a new building that would include space for Childs Memorial.
Prosecutors alleged Griffin violated state law by failing to notify his parishioners of his own involvement in the deal and changing the sale agreement to give Vahdat more time to complete the project – which remains unbuilt years later.
But Griffin’s attorneys argued last week that the state’s case had a “fatal” flaw: It “alleged no harm to Childs Memorial.”
According to Griffin’s attorney, the attorney general’s complaint contains no evidence that the $2 million sale of the church was unfair. In fact, when the state gave Childs Memorial the ability to revoke the agreement, the church board “chose to reaffirm its agreement with the developer,” Griffin’s attorney, S. Christopher Provenzano, wrote in a Feb. 22 court filing.
Griffin, in another affidavitalso insists that he informed the board of some of the “finder’s fees” he received from Vahdat for helping facilitate his purchases from other churches in Harlem – but does not say not whether he disclosed his stake in the sale of the Childs Memorial.
Lawyers for the pastor are asking a judge to dismiss the state case, which sought to bar Griffin from a prominent role in any New York-based nonprofit or charity – even if it would allow him to continue serving as a pastor.
The state has until April 1 to respond to the motion by Griffin’s attorneys.
Griffin, a resident of New Jersey, also holds leadership positions in the Pentecostal Christian Church of Antigua and Barbuda and in New York State. division of the Church of God in Christ — a predominantly black denomination.
A former theatre, the Amsterdam Avenue home of the Childs Memorial has played a part in history: it was where mourners gathered on February 27, 1965 for the funeral of Malcolm X, six days after the death of Malcolm X. assassination of civil rights leader.
Over the following decades, the building fallen into disuse, with opening holes in the roof of the structure. It was demolished in 2018, following the sale to Vahdat, but the planned apartment building – originally planned to be completed by 2019 – did not materialize. (Childs Memorial has temporarily moved to a storefront on West 148th Street.)
Ironically, the delay was welcome for some in the community, who were unhappy with Vahdat’s plan for the Childs Memorial site: a building full of studio apartments that he would rent to the city for use as a family shelter.
At a protest last year, community leaders argued the studios would be ill-suited to homeless families and called on the city to develop affordable housing there permanently.