A former pastor of one of Long Island's oldest churches is suing the church for allegedly failing to pay his full retirement package.
The Rev. Allan Ramirez, 65, served three decades at Brookville Reformed Church on the North Shore's Gold Coast. He also served as an advocate on Latino and immigration issues for decades, taking on politicians and police. He has been a confidant to Latino hate-crime victims and their families, including relatives of Marcelo Lucero, slain in 2008 by a group of teenagers in Patchogue.
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau County last month, alleges the church, founded in 1732, had agreed to pay $375,000 to Ramirez, but is withholding $75,000. The package called for the $375,000 to be divided into yearly installments of about $53,000 over seven years, from 2013 to 2019, according to court papers.
Ramirez is seeking at least $75,000, plus interest, costs and attorney’s fees, according to the lawsuit. He had a stroke last year that impaired his speech, said his attorney, William Ferro.
“The church’s effort to suddenly breach his retirement contract when he is most in need of the money due and owing him defies logic and is an insult to all those who believe in the sanctity and ethics of a religious institution,” Ferro said.
Ramirez’s successor, the Rev. Vicky Eastland, who is named in the lawsuit along with the church, did not respond to a half-dozen requests for comment.
An attorney for the church, Jed L. Marcus, filed a motion Monday in State Supreme Court in Nassau County to dismiss the lawsuit.
The motion argues that church leaders and Ramirez improperly arranged and signed the retirement package because they failed to get the approval of the governing body for the Reformed Church of America on Long Island. In addition, the motion argues that the court cannot get involved in the dispute because it is an internal church matter.
Eastland's husband, the Rev. James Eastland, a former president of the governing body of the Reformed Church for Nassau and Suffolk counties, did not respond to a message. Marcus declined to comment.
Nan Coffey, a former vice president of the Brookville Reformed Church's governing body, who signed off on the retirement package, said, “I am heartbroken and disgusted that people with whom I worshipped for many years could so callously dismiss 30 years of service."
Ramirez and church leaders signed the retirement agreement in June 2012, and Ramirez retired that September. In December 2015, Eastland informed Ramirez that his package had to be changed to $250,000 because an agreement with Verizon Wireless to operate a cell tower on church property ended, leaving the church without sufficient funds to pay the full retirement, court papers show. By 2017, the church offered to pay Ramirez $300,000, the lawsuit states.
Since the dispute began in 2015, Coffey said about half the church’s approximately 100 members have left and meet in one another's homes. The breakaway group calls itself the Old Brookville Church.
“It’s a great time of fellowship,” Coffey said. “We do everything the church used to do” except formal worship and sacraments led by a minister.