Judge to priest who stole $100K from church: You abused position of trust

Source: The Chicago Tribune

A Greek Orthodox priest from Chicago who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $100,000 from his church had his felony theft conviction reduced to a misdemeanor Wednesday.

A judge in Milwaukee agreed to instate the lesser conviction after the Rev. James Dokos satisfied the terms of his yearlong probation, including 40 hours of community service, which he fulfilled by volunteering in a Chicago church.

Dokos, 64, will continue to avoid jail time if he pays a $5,000 fine within the next year, officials said.

While leading Annunciation Church in Milwaukee, Dokos tapped into a trust fund intended to benefit the church and used the money for personal expenses, according to authorities. The priest controlled the $1 million fund — money that was left to the church by former parishioners — and used it to pay personal credit card bills, buy jewelry for a relative and provide gifts of more than $6,000 to a high-ranking church official in Chicago, among other unauthorized purchases, according to a 2013 Tribune analysis of trust fund records.

Parishioners at Annunciation began looking into the trust fund spending after Dokos was transferred by church leaders in Chicago to Sts. Peter and Paul congregation in Glenview. They contacted authorities in Milwaukee after an investigation by officials at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago determined the priest had engaged in no wrongdoing.

Wednesday in court, Milwaukee County Judge Jeffrey Conen chastised Dokos for abusing his congregation’s trust.

“This is an extremely serious set of circumstances that a member of the clergy used and embezzled funds … that were to go to the church,” the judge said. “I always have a significant problem with somebody who was in a position of trust, who abuses that position of trust and steals money.”

Dokos, who has repaid the money to the church, pleaded guilty to theft last year, under the condition that the felony charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor if he performed his community service and otherwise abided by the rules of probation.

As was the case when he pleaded guilty a year ago, Dokos did not offer an apology in court Wednesday.

When the judge asked Dokos if he wished to say anything, the priest responded, “I’m just grateful for your time and consideration in this matter.”

The judge also warned that, even with a misdemeanor theft conviction, Dokos could still be jailed for up to nine months. Conen instead imposed an additional $5,000 fine against Dokos, who must pay it within a year.

“I feel like there has to be consequences, and, yes, a conviction is a consequence, but I feel like there has to be other consequences for a violation of law,” the judge said. “I can take a look at jail time, but I do not think that is appropriate here.”

Dokos’ attorney, Patrick Knight, noted that in addition to repaying the money, his client paid a “huge financial settlement” to Annunciation.

The specific figure was not provided, but Knight said it was “far beyond anything (prosecutors) were attempting to seek in terms of restitution.”

Scott Taylor, an attorney for Annunciation, confirmed the church reached an out-of-court settlement with Dokos last year. He declined to give further details.

“I’m certainly not surprised there was no jail time,” he said of the penalties Dokos received.

Dokos is on a leave of absence with the church, but provides voluntary assistance in ministry, Knight said. Prosecutor David Robles said Dokos fulfilled his court-imposed community service by working at St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, where he was involved in preparations for Lent and other church functions.

Following the hearing, a Metropolis spokesman released a statement: “The court has rendered its verdict, including the approval of all terms and conditions of Rev. Dokos’ probation and community service. The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago has no additional comment regarding this tragic case.”

The spokesman did not address whether Dokos will return to formal priestly duties.

Records shows that the No.-2 ranking official at the Metropolis, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, received $6,700 in checks written by Dokos from the trust fund. Metropolis officials have said that financial gifts to church hierarchy are traditional and that the source of the gifts from Dokos “was not questioned.”

The church hierarchy in Chicago, which oversees Greek Orthodox congregations in several Midwestern states, has come under criticism for its handling of the allegations.

The Metropolis initially did its own investigation, which found that Dokos’ spending from the fund was in accordance with its terms.

Later, when the parish council president at Sts. Peter and Paul in Glenview asked that Dokos be placed on leave during the criminal investigation, Metropolis leaders angrily rebuked the council president and instead removed him from the position.

After media reports surfaced, the Metropolis posted a message on its website saying leaders “stand together to deplore the use of public media outlets as a means of handling internal issues and conflicts that confront the Church.” The statement did not refer specifically to the Dokos allegations.

Later, Bishop Demetrios was warned by a Milwaukee prosecutor against “potential efforts to intimidate witnesses,” related to emails that another Annunciation priest said he had exchanged with the bishop about the case. That priest was later reassigned.

Sts. Peter and Paul member George Karcazes, who has been critical of Dokos and the Metropolis, said the scandal has hurt the church, which has lost many families over the matter. Karcazes has said he was removed from a parish committee after speaking out.

“People see this and they leave the church, because they are so disappointed in the leadership of the church,” Karcazes said.

He said many in the community are anxious to see whether Dokos is reinstated.

“I don’t know how many people are going to want to show up and take communion from this man,” Karcazes said. “The church discipline is what everyone is looking for. … Everyone wants to see where he’s assigned next, whether it’s Sioux City, Iowa, or Chicago.”

Comments

  1. Peter Millman says:

    The Hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox act like unsavory, greedy gangsters, instead of holy men of God. This shyster priest should have been sentenced to ten years in prison to be served, 500 hours of community service cleaning public urinals, and ten years of probation as well.

  2. Wow, $5.000.00 fine, no prison, and at least $95,000.00 clear profit. Perhaps, by taking a big chunk of his retirement pay would repay the $95,000.00 to the church he stole from. Not to mention, repaying 4 fold any defrauded as Zaccaus did which would be genuine repentance. This man needs to be defrocked.

    • Timothy says:

      Not only should he be defrocked, but the Chicago GOA Metropolis should be swept clean, too. I wonder if the Bishop returned his “gift” while he is visiting the EP multiple times trying to restore his image to get a Metropolitan position someplace, as Chicago is certainly out of the question for him. This scandal should not be forgotten.

    • You didn’t read the article carefully enough. The parish not only got its money back, it also received a financial settlement from the priest.

  3. James Calamas says:

    Perhaps the church should not be hoarding money.

    • George Michalopulos says:

      James, are you sure that the money is being hoarded? Or is it possible that it’s being used to pay out damages from catastrophic illnesses and/or hush money? (Or simple bribery as is the case with Dokos funneling money up the food chain?)

  4. Anonymous says:

    The Church secretary down in Pensacola, FL just got arrested for stealing $105,000. Now lets compare what happens in this case to the case described above. https://www.thenationalherald.com/152742/former-secretary-arrested-stealing-105k-greek-church/

  5. Mark E. Fisus says:

    They contacted authorities in Milwaukee after an investigation by officials at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago determined the priest had engaged in no wrongdoing.

    “Did you do anything wrong?”

    “I did nothing wrong.”

    “Works for me. Opa!”

  6. Fr. Harry Linsinbigler says:

    Any Priest or Layman who steals as described should have the book thrown at him. Period. That being said, Millman’s indictment of the entire GOARCH hierarchy should be challenged. Hey Peter, how many years did you beat your wife? I don’t expect an answer, because I raised the question to make a point. Peter, as one Greek to another (sure, I am Ukrainian, but also Greek, and the other two quarters are equally as important to me), I will not stand for your unsubstantiated accusations against the hierarchy. If you have specific accusations, then make them, but if not, then shut up. As one of my Bishops said a few years back about another case: “If the accusations are true, then they should be defrocked.” But if anyone raises false accusations without substantiation, well, we know what Scripture says should be done to him (I am sure you, with your thorough knowledge of Scripture and absolute statements condemning an entire group of leaders without name, know what I am talking about).

    • George Michalopulos says:

      Fr Harry, wise words indeed at least in general. However you, me, Peter and others are trapped in a vortex of paralysis at times when it comes to exposing ecclesiastical corruption. There’s nothing really we can do. Your words are brave but the ability to effect reform is a non-starter. (Hence the continued paucity of giving by the faithful.)

      If I may come to Peter’s defense: how can anyone make an accusation against a bishop when the fact remains that the finances of several of our national chanceries are at best opaque? Consider the GOA. In 2000, when Arb Demetrios was first enthroned, the national budget was only $12 million. Now it’s $30 million. What do they have to show for it? Are there more churches or missions? Are parish priests being subsidized? No. Are the bishops being paid more than they were in 2000? Extremely doubtful. Are there more bureaucrats at 79th St? I don’t think so. Sure, the Athonite monasteries are going gangbusters I grant you but they’re 100% self-sustaining. I’d be surprised if they received one penny from 79th St (esp so since the Archons are dead-set against them). What other conclusion can we make but that the increase in the budget is used to funnel money to some secret source?

      As to making an accusation against a bishop, that’s pretty much a non-starter as well. We only “know” in our gut that this bishop is a homosexual and has a boy-toy or that that bishop has a mistress and has to pay hush money to. Unless one of us is incredibly wealthy there’s no way to investigate episcopal chicanery.

      Look at this Blog for example. Monomakhos has exposed significant corruption in Syosset, not necessarily sexual or even financial, but procedural. One bishop actually made a public accusation against another bishop that he had kiddie porn on his computer. Did it make a difference? In the case of that particular accusation, not at all. Otherwise, the only differences that were made by exposing such chicanery happened only at the margins. Some of the bit players were removed but only after due course.

      We’ve also exposed the money trail that went from Dokos to three other bishops. With one of these bishops, there seems to have been a quid pro quo in that he got a cushy assignment. Where did that money go? Was it ever returned to the Franczak Trust? No. Dokos was left to twist in the wind but otherwise it was business as usual.

      The fact of the matter remains that in moribund churches, it’s darn near impossible to get rid of a corrupt bishop. Unless he’s caught on video doing something, he’s pretty much free and clear. Another case in point: the Antiochian bishop who sexually assaulted that woman in the casino several years back. He was caught but only because he was arrested and there was a public record, he was quietly shipped out of the US. After five years or so, he’s been brought back. I think that kind of proves my point. Business as usual.

      • Notice all you hear is crickets, from any clergy members, George. 12 to 30 million you say. Oh Well! Another Grreeaatt mystery of the GGrreek Orthodox Church. Don’t ask too many questions, you don’t want a anathema brought against you, do you? O Theos na se fela!

        Our thirst for this TRUTH will only be quenched when they screw down the bolts on our coffins! Then maybe. I know I will have at lot of explaining to do, at the judgement seat of Christ, but man do I feel sorry for some Bishops when their time comes. Makes you wonder what their thinking, and what do they believe in.

        Sure takes a bit of the cheer, out of my cheerful giving!

      • Fr. Harry Linsinbigler says:

        George, much of this is speculation. The old “what else are we to conclude” does not work, since we know that there are many possibilities, which may include negligence, but may only include one person hiding things from others.

        Dino, cheer can still be given. Dokos had one parish, and one drop does not make a well.

        As for Peter Millman, he has frightened my wife and children by looking up my number and leaving threatening messages on voicemail as well as sending a threatening email. Peter Millman, if I hear from you again I will pay the fee to look up your number and call the local police to come and arrest you.

        • Father Harry,

          My giving is always cheerful. I understand to whom it belongs to. What happens to the money after I give it back, I cannot control. None the less I’m human, my brain functions, my eyes, and ears see and hear. It’s the way of the world, in our fallen state, I get it. I belong to one of the most trouble some parishes around, which constantly distracted my faith and focus on the mark. My spiritual Father helped me through periods, of wanting to drop out, after so many conflicts in my parish. I understand the father of lies is also the father of distractions. We are distracted, to see the faults of others, before our own sins. I’m almost there.

          The situation with Peter is the reason, I would never give out my last name. Many thought me a coward for not, but it was not in fear for myself, but my family. I asked Peter to speak to his spiritual father, before calling you again. I hope he does.

          • Fr. Harry Linsinbigler says:

            Understood Dino. I am glad to hear that your giving is cheerful. To be honest, mine is not always so. It takes a toll on a priest to be the biggest proportional giver in a parish for nearly a decade and a half. I have had parishioners and even fellow priests say “why give so much money back, you earned it?” The truth is, that I didn’t earn it. It is given to me in lieu of the fact that I gave up a really good career to go into the priesthood and have to make a living at it. From a worldly perspective, I “more than earned it” as I, besides pastoral duties, without pay for a decade, cleaned, cut the grass, did maintenance work for free, etc. But I did it voluntarily. “It was a thankless job”. So what. Christ tells us that it is only the things that we do without recompense (including “thanks” or appreciation) that even count for eternal life.

            And I really did give up a promising job and career to enter into it. I make less now than what I did then. At that time, not long after the turn of the millennium, my company, a national company (from the upper east coast to california to florida) bestowed on me its highest honor in the year that I resigned to go to seminary: national employee of the year. I was the only person in my division to ever attain it in decades, and was interim executive director of the division at the time. I also turned down a job offer to give up being “interim” and be the youngest executive director of one of the four divisions of this national company in order to go to seminary. We sold our house to be able to afford to go to seminary. This is all insane by worldly standards. I am tempted to look back and think that I was insane. One might say “Lot’s wife–don’t look back”, but she was looking back to a sinful life. This would have been a virtuous life as a layman, so there is no comparison. Nevertheless, there were a series of miraculous events with uncanny timing that led me to do what I did, and to know that I can’t turn back.

            Most priests don’t know what they are getting into. But that is the point. While most are not called to be priests, we all have to take the leap of faith, and follow the Spirit’s call. One of my favorite movie scenes is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when he goes through the “trials” and then the last one is the leap of faith. That is what I had to do. I found the same as Indiana Jones–God had put a bridge there. I got to the other side and found nothing but chalices and an old man who wanted me to vanquish him because he really just wanted to move on (symbolic of most parishes now). The thing that is different is that Indy was called to leave the cave, and I was called to stay. Even though the bridge and cave to the south have collapsed, I have discovered that there are other bridges into the cave that i didn’t know about, and that others would indeed come and that the Chalice was not just meant to be hidden in a cave. The Chalice was made for man, not man for the Chalice.

            The point is that, sure there are phonies on all levels of church life right from the beginning (Simon Magus, Judas, Nicholas the heretic, the others among the 70 that fell away and needed replaced) as there are in any path of life, but others are the real deal. Same today as back then.

            Keep the Faith, my brother, and be assured that I will keep it with you, each of us with the prayer of the other, and us both not letting go of the Divine hand that has grasped us. Pray for me. Be well in Christ.

            • George Michalopulos says:

              Beautiful Fr. These insights are profound. Your parishioners are lucky to have you. If the EAUSA has just ten bishops like you, then we American Orthodox are in good stead.

            • Father Harry,

              I know you understand, as I, works are meaningless, without faith, and love for our Lord. Your continued faithful service, will see great riches at the most important table. I will light a candle and pray for you and your family, as well. Thank you for yours.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Cases like the one presented here are a harbinger of a more serious problem that threatens to cripple Orthodox Parishes in America. Most Orthodox jurisdictions are NOT models of financial transparency and financial best practices. Does your jurisdiction have an External audit conducted by a CPA firm yearly to ensure all is well? Can you find your jurisdictions most recent financials on its web page? How about a balance sheet of all your jurisdictions assets and liabilities?

    If you ask the economic situation of some Orthodox jurisdictions will look a lot like the notorious Jenga scene in the movie The Big Short. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hG4X5iTK8M

    If Orthodoxy was a tranche I would short it. Of course if an Archdiocese has problems it will seek a bailout from the hardworking parishes across the country.

    • Fr. Harry Linsinbigler says:

      Anonymous, it is a great idea for parishes to put in their budget for an independent CPA to inspect the books. Emphasis on independent (NO connection to the parish, for various reasons).

      • Anonymous says:

        It is an even better idea for national jurisdictions to have such audits. How does your jurisdiction handle audits and transparency at the National level?

  8. Michael Bauman says:

    The real problem is we have no roots in North America except in Alaska. Without roots all kind of bad stuff happens. Including lack of spiritual formation. It is all theoretical and soon becomes a game while the world seems real.

    • Fr. Harry Linsinbigler says:

      Well, Michael, that was our own bad choice, one that we still continue to make. The reason for this is that we would rather be treebeards that move about rather than a single forest. Everyone is afraid to get burnt. The result is, that we only have little patches of woods rather than a great forest in the USA.

  9. Michael Bauman says:

    Father, choice or circumstance the way is still available. Jesus wants me in the Orthodox Church in the parish I am blessed to be in. He gave one of His beloved to be my bride late in life after many failures.

    So despite the lack He is with us despite ourselves.

    Contention, corruption, heresy and apostasy have always been with us and they are alive today in my own heart.

    God forgive me. May He continue to bless you, your family and your parish with many bridges.