Agape Ministries of God:
Controversial Agape Ministries Church sells $1.6m home
SEAN FEWSTER, COURT REPORTER
The Adelaide Advertiser
August 15, 2010
THE empire of controversial Agape Ministries Church spans two states, eight properties and a fleet of 13 vehicles, and its funds are held in 10 separate accounts, it has been revealed.
Court documents obtained by The Advertiser show for the first time the scope of church leader Pastor Rocco Leo's fortune obtained, his detractors claim, through fraud.
The documents have been filed as part of a successful District Court action in May to freeze the assets of Leo, right, and two senior Agape members - Joe and Mari Antoinette Veneziano.
Yesterday, however, The Advertiser learnt that one of the Victorian properties at the centre of the dispute was sold last month for around $1.6 million.
Law firm Armour and Allen, which was successful in freezing the Venezianos' assets, said it had been told by the Victorian land titles office there was an order over all assets in that state.
Also yesterday, police said they were no closer to finding Leo or one of his closest confidants, John Mouhalos three months after they found batons, fuses, detonators, detonator cords and about 20,000 rounds of high-powered ammunition allegedly connected to the cult. The court documents show:
LEO owns three South Australian properties, including the church's Oakden headquarters, and Butterflies Cafe on Pirie St, Adelaide.
FIVE properties in the Victorian suburbs of Sunshine and Clayton are owned by either Leo, the Venezianos or companies in which they hold an interest.
THE church runs a fleet of 13 vehicles including a luxury Mercedes sedan, a silver Mercedes coupe and a dual-cab tip-truck.
FUNDS connected to the church are held in one Westpac and nine Commonwealth Bank accounts.
Leo and the Venezianos are being sued by Silvia Melchiorre and Martin Penney, who claim they were duped into handing over $1.2 million and $420,000 respectively.
They claim Leo told them the Earth's population would be impregnated with tiny microchips containing personal information. Leo allegedly said anyone who refused the chip would be branded terrorists and be gassed or beheaded in government concentration camps.
Mr Penney alleges Leo also warned them that those people who agreed to be micro-chipped would also die from a slow-release poison hidden within the devices.
Ms Melchiorre claims Leo promised to keep her safe on "The Island", a South Pacific location where he would also heal her.
Lawyers for Leo and the Venezianos have repeatedly denied the claims, offering to "refund" a $290,000 "donation" made by Ms Melchiorre. Though no warrant has been issued for Leo's arrest, police are investigating allegations he assaulted the estranged husband of a parishioner at Adelaide Airport in April.
Under the terms of the asset freeze order, Leo and the Venezianos must not dispose of their assets, by any means "up to the unencumbered value of $500,000".
That order extends beyond the listed properties, cars and bank accounts to include credit cards, corporate trusts and "any other account".
A single exception to the order has been made for the benefit of Leo's wife, Assunta.
She is permitted to withdraw $1000 each week, from one of the Westpac accounts, for living expenses.
Mrs Leo yesterday declined to comment. The couple have six children, three of them married and three who are being cared for by Mrs Leo at their sprawling Campbelltown home.
In a statement yesterday, a police spokesman said their investigation into the Agape Ministries' activities "was ongoing" and "nothing new" had been uncovered.
However, they remained concerned for Mr Mouhalos, who was reported missing by police 12 days ago.
In July, long-time Agape church member Raphael Azariah admitted microchipping had been "discussed in Bible study class".
The lawsuits against Leo and the Venezianos return to court next month.
- with Ken McGregor, Holly Ife and Bryan Littlely
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