When retired Catholic priest Louis Robert Gigante died in October at 90 years of age, the news of his death was missed by most of America’s religion reporters, yet there are important lessons to learn from examining Gigante’s life story.
Gigante served at St. Athanasius Church in New York City, launched the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO), a large developer of affordable housing, and was famous for being the brother of mafia boss Vincent Gigante, who headed the Genovese Crime Family for more than 20 years.
By serving as a secular, non-order priest, Gigante avoided taking a vow of poverty. Gigante preached the weddings and funerals of mafia associates and spoke in favor of lenient sentences after mafia members were convicted of crimes.
In 1989, The Village Voice newspaper published an incredible expose of Gigante’s business practices: “A four-month Voice investigation of Gigante and SEBCO has revealed that the priest and his publicly financed developments have been a $50 million opportunity for the Mafia.”
In addition to operating the non-profit SEBCO, Gigante owned the for-profit SEBCO Management company which did business with the non-profit. This kind of business relationship is described as self-dealing and is illegal when a non-profit executive excessively profits off the non-profit organization.
Self-dealing creates conflicts of interest and opportunities for financial abuse. The Village Voice reported, “It should come as no surprise that the priest’s company has gotten every SEBCO contract.”
Gigante may have also engaged in offshore money laundering. A search of the Offshore Leaks Database reveals that in 1995, SEBCO Holding Inc. was created in Panama and was linked to Switzerland.
Gigante lost when he ran for Congress but was elected to City Council and served for four years. During a lecture at Harvard University, Gigante told his audience, “I’m in politics to become a political boss, and I want to be a boss to get the power.”
This blind ambition is the hallmark of a psychopath.
After retiring from SEBCO in 2007, Gigante continued to profit off affordable housing programs. While in his late 80s, Gigante received over $1 million in compensation for both 2019 and 2020 from companies related to non-profit organizations.
Lessons to Remember
Moral character in church and non-profit leadership matters.
Gigante frequently denied that his brothers were in the mafia. The Village Voice reported that Gigante also claimed the mafia didn’t exist.
Gigante’s denials of criminal behavior are no different than today’s widespread practice of pastors protecting other pastors caught in sex crimes, financial crimes and other misconduct.
Government oversight of non-profit organizations is an abject failure.
After The Village Voice revealed Gigante’s use of mafia-connected companies to provide services to SEBCO, Gigante remained as head of the organization.
The federal government could have removed Gigante and placed the organization into receivership, appointing a new board of directors to run the affordable housing organization.
The United States Justice Department has avoided charging America’s religious organizations and non-profits with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
This law empowered the federal government to prosecute organized crime. Unfortunately, organized crime is the perfect description for some of the criminal actions in religious organizations and nonprofits.