(UticaOD) - The Very Rev. Stephen Enea admits he made a “stupid mistake” trying to fix up the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan church in Utica without having the money to pay the contractors.
But as he faced two to six years in prison Thursday, Enea refused to stand silent in Oneida County Court while prosecutors and the judge suggested he was an “illegitimate” priest with a pattern of cheating people out of their money.
“I disagree with everything that’s been said in this court today,” Enea said. “It makes everything I’ve done over the past 16 years meaningless. This was one instance of a stupid mistake … I’ve suffered and I’ve sacrificed and I’ve gotten nothing from it.”
When Enea pleaded guilty last November to third-degree grand larceny for failing to pay the contractors who did more than $212,000 in restoration to the church, he agreed to have at least $100,000 in restitution by the time he was due to be sentenced.
But after coming up with only $14,000 when he appeared in Oneida County Court, Judge Michael L. Dwyer said there was less than “a 1 percent chance” Enea would ever be able raise the total amount owed. In the meantime, one of the contractors has lost his business and would likely lose his home, Dwyer said.
“I’m not going to fall into the same trap that the victims fell into,” Dwyer said, referring to the contractors who had accepted Enea’s empty promises to pay them. “They’re never going to get their money … but you stole their money, and you are going to be punished.”
Enea explained that the travel restrictions imposed by his arrest prevented him from leaving the area to visit other congregations and ask them for financial help.
As Enea’s public defender, Cory Zennamo, attempted to rein in Enea’s verbal attack on the judge, the priest shouted back: “No, I’m not going to calm down.”
“Your ‘1 percent’ is (expletive),” Enea shouted to Dwyer, referring to the judge’s doubt that Enea could raise the money simply by selling fried dough. “It can be done.”
“That’s very religious of you,” Dwyer replied to Enea’s vulgarity.
A pre-sentence probation report had initially recommended that Enea receive only probation and a few months in jail. David Tomidy, the director of Oneida County’s Probation Department, however, then offered his own opinion that Enea should face stiff incarceration for the financial harm he caused.
Dwyer said he took no pleasure in sending Enea to prison, and he would rather have seen the contractors get their money back. After Enea was taken into custody, Enea’s mother stood up in court and asked to speak.
“I’m his mom, and you’re wrong, judge,” Gloria Enea said tearfully. “He would have paid it back. Sometimes judges are wrong.”