BROOKLYN (CN) - A bogus nun posing as Sister Mindy, "dressed in a nun's habit, with a cross on her neck and a donation cup in her hands," scammed New Yorkers for years, seeking donations for a sham church - but the money went to a notorious Brooklyn crime family, state prosecutors say.
"Dressed in a nun's habit, with a cross on her neck and a donation cup in her hands, defendant Melindia LeGrand has for years solicited Little Italy's residents, shoppers, and tourists asking for money to support the 'children of St. Joseph's' and social programs run by St. Joseph's," New York's attorney general says in the complaint in Kings County Court.
But "In fact, the social programs do not exist, Melindia LeGrand is not a nun and St. Joseph's is not a functioning church. St. Joseph's is simply a front for fraudulent fundraising that is run by members of the LeGrand family, which has a notorious history of crime in Brooklyn," according to the complaint.
The attorney general says St. Joseph's Church of Christ, Inc., was co-founded by Vivian Sannicola, whose former common-law husband, Devernon LeGrand, was a self-proclaimed bishop who ran St. John's Pentecostal Church of the Lord until his multiple murder convictions shut it down in 1977.
LeGrand died in prison after killing and dismembering three women, including one of his wives, according to reports in The New York Times and other newspapers.
But before St. John's closed down, its "sisters" dressed in black habits to seek "charity" on New York City's streets and subways, according to the complaint.
Vivian Sannicola, then known as Vivian Jenkins, incorporated St. Joseph's in 1980, and the church's certificate was signed by "Rt. Reverend Vivian Jenkins," "Reverend Helen Lloyd" and "Deacon Michael Hicks," according to the complaint.
Helen Lloyd was another common law wife of "Bishop" LeGrand, and Hicks was his son-in-law. "Bishop" LeGrand reportedly fathered 46 children.
Snippets of transcripts printed in the complaint show that Melindia LeGrand invoked her protection from self-incrimination more than 20 times when probed by the attorney general's office.
Transcripts of Sannicola's testimony, however, show short, direct and allegedly incriminating answers followed by exclamation points.
When asked if St. Joseph's had a board of trustees, Sannicola said, "No!"
When asked who ran the church, she replied, "I do!"
"Do you make the decisions?" her interrogator asked.
The transcript states she was "screaming" when she replied "Yes!"
New York wants the "church" dissolved, its fund-raising enjoined, and LeGrand and Sannicola fined for breach of duty, waste and misappropriation.
St. Joseph's Church of Christ is also known as St. Joseph's Church of Christ & Home.