AP IMPACT: Tragedy meant big money for NY minister

By David B. Caruso

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22 2012 10:26 a.m. MDT

Yet St. Peter's Church, one of the two Keyes cited, was open that day, made famous as the place where firefighters carried the body of the Rev. Mychal Judge, a Fire Department Catholic chaplain killed in the lobby of the north tower.

"I don't think it's true, this whole story," the Rev. Kevin Madigan, the church's senior priest, said of Keyes' version.

There was no break-in on Staten Island, either, said retired New York police Capt. Edward Reuss, who helped oversee staging of relief services there.

And 1,000 pets were rescued in Battery Park City, but that was handled by the city's parks department, according to representatives of several animal rescue groups involved. They said they never heard of Keyes.

Keyes also had said he set up a respite center in "The Green Tarp," a canteen that fed thousands of ground zero workers. But the Green Tarp was set up and run by celebrity chef David Bouley.

Questioned about those claims, Keyes told the AP he had only used the spot as a staging area for deliveries months after Bouley left, and that his workers had slipped in and out through an unlocked back door. He acknowledged that he hadn't been involved in any break-in on Staten Island, but said he once suggested the idea in a telephone conversation.

As for breaking into Catholic churches, Keyes said he stands by his statement. But he added that the chaos of 9/11 makes it "impossible for any individual to accurately remember what happened at what time on what day and by whom."

While promoting his charitable work, Keyes also has claimed support from presidents and other dignitaries. Keyes' lawyer told the AP that before Colin Powell agreed to speak at a 2009 fundraiser, the retired four-star general researched Keyes' background going back 30 years.

"General Powell and his staff found Mr. Keyes to be an upstanding individual with an exemplary record of service to the citizens of the world," Polovetsky wrote to AP.

That came as a surprise to Powell, who said he had never looked into Keyes' background. "I don't know how they spend their money or manage their finances."

ACCOUNTANTS COMPLAIN

Some of the most serious complaints about Keyes' financial practices come from his former accountants. Several who used to work for Keyes said that as donors poured money into Keyes' Urban Life Ministries, he raided its accounts to help himself and his church.

One accountant filed complaints in 2008 with New York state tax officials and the New York attorney general accusing Keyes of misusing Hurricane Katrina donations.

"Not only was this (nonprofit) plundered to fund the operating deficits of the church, the amounts were spent on personal items of the pastor's family, and thus were items of taxable income," wrote Bruce Kowal, an accountant who worked for Keyes between 2003 and 2006.

Kowal attached bank records to the complaint, obtained by the AP, that he said showed Urban Life Ministries paid some of Keyes' personal expenses, including his American Express bills; a $349.23 monthly lease on a car his sons used while attending a private college in Florida; a $130 monthly payment on a storage unit near their school; and payments toward the personal loan Keyes owed on the Poconos property.

Urban Life Ministries gave more money to Glad Tidings Tabernacle, including $12,000 to pay overdue employment taxes for church staff and $40,000 for other costs.

Kowal said in the complaint that Glad Tidings church money was used to pay more than $73,000 in 2004 and 2005 for other personal credit card bills on Keyes' behalf without providing the required proof that they were legitimate church expenses for him and his wife.

"I had repeatedly admonished the pastors that these actions were possibly illegal, and that the remedy was the repayment of all amounts diverted from (the charity), as well as amending the personal income tax returns of the pastors to reflect the personal items paid for," he wrote.

Kowal accused Keyes of forging a former church employee's name on Urban Life Ministries' checks. He said the worker, Adam Babcock, had left seven months earlier.

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