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UES Church Congregation Goes To Court In Effort To Fire Pastor

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A congregation's fight over a pastor accused of stealing money started in an Upper East Side church, and ended up in a courtroom Thursday.

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported, the Rev. Daniel Iampaglia of the Evangelical Rock Church was back in court Thursday. Members of his congregation were there too, but not to support him.

In fact, the congregation members were fighting for their right to fire him.

Walking outside a Manhattan courtroom Thursday with his attorney by his side, Iampaglia, 72, refused to speak with the news media.

But some members of the Rock Church were more than willing to speak about their disgraced pastor, who was caught on camera taking $238 in cash from the church collection.

The church members have taken Iampaglia to civil court, so the church board can regain authority to fire him.

"He can talk about all things about loving all of that, you know, and being obedient to God's word," said church member Solomon Milliner. "How can you be obedient to God's word when you're going to be a thief – stealing the money from the offering?"

Iampaglia was charged with petit larceny. But his attorney said the pastor did not steal at all. The attorney claimed Iampaglia was taking cash to buy light bulbs and supplies for Sunday school.

"He has receipts for everything," Iampaglia's attorney said in court. "There was no improper spending of any money here. There was no unlawful or misappropriation of church funds."

But some church members did not believe it.

"Everything they said up there in the courtroom is a big fat lie," Milliner said. "They tried to cover for him. That's all."

There has been an ongoing battle between two groups at the church on East 62nd Street – those who want Iampaglia in, and those who do not.

Some members still come to worship every Sunday, but they skip his morning service. They have their own meeting every Sunday afternoon without him.

This past Sunday, the differences grew so heated that police came to the church. A church elder was pushed to the floor, as one faction tried to gain entry to the sanctuary where Iampaglia was delivering service.

The judge hearing the case on Thursday expressed his disgust for the behavior.

"I'm horrified to hear, in a house of worship, that people are coming and creating chaos, and putting themselves in danger," the judge said.

The judge withheld a decision on the case until he reviews all the facts. But church members were confident that Iampaglia's days were numbered.

"We will get a decision in our favor," said church member Anand Benigalla.

For now, Rev. Iampaglia will continue to preside over Sunday services. The future of the Rock Church remains unknown until the court hands down a decision.

Iampaglia is due back in court on March 5.

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