Infighting leads to arrests at Woodside church mass

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The police action was the latest development in a...

By Dustin Brown

Four members of a Romanian church in Woodside were arrested Sunday for allegedly violating an order of protection which bars them from approaching another member of the congregation, police said.

The police action was the latest development in a longstanding conflict between two factions of St. Mary’s Orthodox Romanian Church, which rents space in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 39-04 61st St.

A financial dispute tore the church in two in November, church members said, causing congregants to stagger services so each group could worship independently.

The order of protection dates back to Dec. 10, when Dimitrie Vicovanu alleges he was beaten and pushed by members of the main congregation after he took collections during their service and attempted to exit the church with the money.

The order obtained from a Criminal Court judge in Queens prevents six congregants allegedly involved in the incident from having any contact with Vicovanu, according to Bryan Levinson, the lawyer for the six.

But Vlad Bogaciu, one of the congregants named in the order, contended they only attempted to restrain Vicovanu when he responded violently to their requests that he return the money.    

When the main congregation attempted to hold a worship service in the meeting room at 8 a.m. Sunday, Vicovanu called the police to have four of the six congregants cited in the protection order removed, witnesses said. Vicovanu said they violated the order of protection by entering the building while he worshiped in the main part of the church.

Police entered the room and removed church President Livius Singeap and Michele Harris at the beginning of the service, later returning to handcuff Adrian Preda and Terentiu Popescu in the midst of their worship, Bogaciu said.

“The women started crying to see the police come in the middle of the Mass,” said Bogaciu, who was not arrested Sunday in spite of being named in the order. “We tried to insist that the service was still going on and things like that. They never considered this. They took them out.”

Cheryl Cox, a spokeswoman for the Police Department, said the six members of the congregation were arrested Sunday and charged with violating the order of protection.

Although the original order specifically stated the six could attend church, the judge did not include such a provision when she reissued the order Feb. 5, saying their right to attend church was implicit and did not have to be stated, Levinson said.

“They had every right to go to church,” the lawyer said. “Instead, the police walked into the church and cuffed everybody. Apparently the police didn’t read the same book that the judge did.”

The Queens district attorney’s office will analyze the minutes of the Feb. 5 order of protection hearing to determine the court’s intent before deciding how to proceed with the case, said spokeswoman Mary de Bourbon.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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