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Elderly priest’s savings at center of court battle between religious order and cleric’s friends

A court fight over who’s in line for Father George E. Maj’s life savings involves a lot of money and trouble for a Catholic priest who took a vow of poverty 55 years ago.

Because he has so few expenses and collects Social Security and a military pension, the 82-year-old former U.S. Army chaplain has saved at least $180,000, and according to one estimate, as much as $353,000.

The religious society to which Maj belongs – the Pallottine Fathers – wants that money. Maj made a vow of poverty and signed a will in his native Poland when he first became a priest, promising to leave all his worldly goods to the Pallottines, according to the society.

But Maj now wants to leave his money to two close friends – a West Seneca man and his wife. Maj recently put the names of Andrzej Borusowski and his wife, Renata, on his bank accounts, gave them power of attorney over his affairs, loaned them thousands of dollars and also had a new will drawn up to make them his sole heirs.

Father John Posiewala, the superior in charge of the local Pallottines, said Maj suffers from dementia and can no longer make clear-headed decisions. He accuses the Borusowskis and their lawyer, Ralph C. Lorigo, of taking advantage of Maj.

The Borusowskis and Lorigo, who drew up the new will, said Maj told them Posiewala mistreated him and already took some of his money. The Borusowskis say they agreed to take Maj’s money only at his insistence.

Posiewala denies any wrongdoing. So do the Borusowskis.

Whether somebody is trying to take advantage of the elderly priest – his name is pronounced “May” – and whether he is capable of making his own financial decisions are among the issues being considered in Niagara County Court. The case has proceeded – with most court records sealed and hearings closed to the public – for the past four months before Judge Matthew J. Murphy III.

In one court document filed publicly, Murphy indicated in June that the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office informed him of a grand jury probe into “possible larcenies” by the Borusowskis.

No criminal charges have been filed, but the case remains open, District Attorney Michael J. Violante recently told The Buffalo News.

Duty to his order

Posiewala said he is just looking out for the elderly priest.

“At the VA hospital, they diagnosed him with dementia two years ago. I take care of him 24 hours a day,” Posiewala told The News. Posiewala lives with Maj and another priest in a small rectory at Holy Infant Jesus Shrine off Niagara Falls Boulevard.

“I have known him for 34 years,” Posiewala said. “I order his medications. I am his health care proxy. He can’t say Mass anymore, he forgets the words. We take care of him here.”

When they take their vows, Pallottine priests sign wills promising that, upon their deaths, all they own will belong to the Pallottines, Posiewala said.

“Father George is a member of our society,” Posiewala said. “It is his duty for all his money to go to our society.”

Attorneys Terrence M. Connors and Patrick D. McNally, who represent the Pallottine Fathers, said they are not aware of any credible evidence that Maj was ever mistreated in the rectory.

In addition to receiving $990 a month in Social Security, Maj receives a military pension of about $750 a month, sources close to the case said. He served as a U.S. Army chaplain in Germany for about 10 years and also worked at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Proud of his service, Maj often wears his Army uniform to church and to Murphy’s courtroom.

Earlier this month, after a reporter tried repeatedly to visit Maj at the rectory and contact him by telephone and by mail, Posiewala said Maj could not be interviewed.

“You can’t speak to Father George,” Posiewala said. “This man is sick ... No, no, no.”

Almost like family

During an interview in their West Seneca home, Borusowski, 53, and his wife burst into tears when asked about allegations they are trying to take advantage of an ailing priest to get their hands on his money.

They said they consider themselves Maj’s closest friends, adding that he has visited their home many times.

“We’re being treated like criminals,” said Andrzej Borusowski, a car dealer. “Father George Maj is almost like a member of our family. He’s been our close friend for 16 years. We didn’t ask for his money. We don’t want his money. We don’t need his money. I didn’t ask to be mentioned in his will.”

Lorigo said Maj came to him several months ago, telling him that he wanted his money to go to the Borusowskis after his death.

The Borusowskis and Lorigo said Maj told them Posiewala treats him like a “prisoner” in the North Tonawanda rectory, telling him where he can go and when, writing checks on Maj’s bank account without his knowledge, and at times, slapping him in the face.

“He told us Father John will not let him have his own phone, or a key to his own room. He also told us that $8,000 cash was stolen from his room earlier this year,” Andrzej Borusowski said.

Lorigo showed The News a statement Maj gave him for the court case, saying he “knowingly and willingly” made a new will leaving all his property to the Borusowskis. In the statement, Maj said he trusts and relies on the Borusowskis.

“I believe Father John has taken money from me … and there has been money and property missing from my room which causes me concern,” Maj said in the court affidavit.

The Borusowskis said it was entirely Maj’s idea to make them his heirs and partners on his bank accounts.

Writing checks for Maj

Posiewala denied to The News that he ever slapped or abused Maj or stole his money.

But he confirmed that on March 25 he wrote a $41,000 check on Maj’s checking account and made it payable to the Pallottines’ order, the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. He said he did so without Maj’s knowledge after Maj signed a blank check for him.

He said the Pallottines are legally entitled to all of Maj’s money, and he wanted to prevent Maj from giving it all to the Borusowskis.

“To save some money for our society, I wrote the check for $41,000,” Posiewala said.

But after Lorigo wrote Posiewala, demanding the return of the money, Posiewala on April 16 wrote a $41,000 check from the society to Maj and sent it to Lorigo.

Posiewala said he’s written checks for years for Maj, because Maj is incapable of handling his own finances.

Agency involvement

While the judge has sealed most court documents, The News pieced together an accurate account by talking to multiple sources familiar with both sides of the dispute.

The Niagara County Social Services Department filed a court petition stating that Maj is an “allegedly incapacitated person,” raising concerns about his mental health and his dealings with the Borusowskis.

On May 15, Social Services officials filed a petition asking Murphy to appoint a guardian to handle Maj’s affairs.

Responding to the petition, Murphy in July removed Lorigo as Maj’s attorney and appointed attorney Gerald S. Sacca to represent the priest. The judge appointed attorney David J. Mansour as Maj’s temporary guardian and attorney Charles P. Ben as a fact-finder for the court.

Murphy also barred the Borusowskis from having any contact with Maj. Lorigo appealed that ruling. A hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Social Services officials were alerted in March, sources said, after Maj and the Borusowskis went to a Cheektowaga KeyBank and made Andrzej and Renata Borusowski co-holders with Maj of his accounts there. A bank official was concerned about that action and also about other financial transactions conducted on Maj’s behalf.

An adult care protective caseworker from Social Services learned that, in early April, the Borusowskis drove Maj to Lorigo’s West Seneca law office, where Lorigo drew up a power of attorney document making Andrzej Borusowski Maj’s legal agent. Lorigo also drew up the new will for Maj.

Posiewala told the caseworker that a doctor diagnosed Maj with dementia about two years earlier.

Social Services officials stated that Maj is believed to have as much as $353,000. Other sources said the correct number is about $180,000.

‘Of sound mind’

Magda Stempniewska, Maj’s 24-year-old great niece, has taken trips with the Borusowskis and stayed in their home for months on four occasions. In a telephone interview with The News from her home in Radom, Poland, she said she last visited her great uncle in the summer of 2012, when she spent time with him at the rectory.

“The Pallottines don’t ... deserve his money,” she told The News. “Father John does not treat him with respect.”

In contrast, she described the Borusowskis as good family friends who have looked after Maj for years. She said her great uncle is frail and “not in good health,” but she thinks he is of sound mind.

“I just want my uncle’s money to go to where my uncle wants it to go,” Stempniewska said.