LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Los Angeles developer testified Monday she had no reason to believe nuns were lying when they told her they had the authority to sell her a vacant convent – property the Catholic Church plans to sell to pop star Katy Perry.
Restaurateur and developer Dana Hollister signed a contract with members of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary and their attorney, Wendy Coffelt, to purchase a villa and former convent in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA, which has been vacant since 2011.
Hollister filed her grant deed with the County Recorder's Office in June 2015. But the archdiocese says Hollister did not have the necessary permission from the LA archbishop or the Vatican to buy the property.
According to the archdiocese’s attorney Kirk Dillman of McKool Smith Hennigan, Hollister knew she couldn’t buy the property because Margaret Graf, the archdiocese’s general counsel, told her as much in a May 2015 email sent to Hollister's lawyer, Randy Snyder.
“You said this was b.s. and relied upon Ms. Coffelt’s information about canon law,” Dillman told Hollister on Monday, referring to an earlier email between Hollister and Coffelt. “You ignored this and relied on Wendy Coffelt.”
On the stand, Hollister replied, “I did not ignore this. I relied on what she told me. She told me the 1992 agreement was broken and not enforceable.”
Under the 1992 agreement Hollister mentioned, which was approved by the Vatican, the sisters could not sell the Los Feliz property without written approval from the archbishop.
Hollister said she entered into an agreement with some of the sisters and Coffelt, and felt it was authorized by the archbishop because he placed the property on the market. She said she believed the nuns “had the authorization to move ahead with the sale of the Waverly property.”
Her attorney Michael Geibelson asked if she believed Coffelt when she presented her a document signed by sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman.
“Absolutely,” Hollister answered.
“Did you believe Sister Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman had the authorization to sign the grant deed?” Geibelson asked.
“Absolutely, she was the CFO” of the order, Hollister said.
Perry offered $14.5 million for the property, while Hollister offered $10 million at closing. She planned to convert the property into a hotel – one of the reasons the church decided to sell to Perry, who planned to live at the property.
Archdiocese general counsel Graf also took the stand on Monday, and detailed several meetings in 2015 between church representatives and Hollister. She testified Archbishop Jose Gomez also met with the remaining five Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to discuss why he was going to accept Perry’s offer over Hollister’s: Perry's offer included a cash transaction, while Hollister planned to convert the property into a hotel.
Graf said she met with Hollister and Snyder to discuss why the archdiocese would not accept their offer, which was necessary to purchase the property – and testified Hollister’s decision to file the grant deed anyway “shocked” her.
“I was frankly shocked,” Graf said, noting she and other church representatives had outlined the authority issues in past meetings and through documents shared with the jurors on Monday.
“I would have thought she understood that conversation.”
The trial will continue on Tuesday.