Chicago Tribune Prints Investigative Article about Fr. Dokos Role in Trust

Author: Theodore Kalmoukos
Date Published: 10/31/2013
TNH ARCHIVES Fr. James Dokos blesses the animals in front of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Glenview
TNH ARCHIVES Fr. James Dokos blesses the animals in front of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Glenview

CHICAGO, IL – The Chicago Tribune has published an extensive article about Rev. James Dokos, presiding priest at Saints Peter and Paul parish in Glenview, concerning the trust that was established by former parishioners of his when he had been pastoring at the Annunciation parish in Milwaukee, WI. Dokos served there for 22 years prior to his reassignment to Saints Peter and Paul. Dokos was named an executor of the trust.

TNH has written about this matter in the past, most recently in the October 5 edition.

TNH had reported that the whole issue started in 2008 when Annunciation parishioner Margaret Franczak shortly before her passing established the nearly-$2 million Ervin J. & Margaret S. Franczak Trust, designating Dokos as Trustee.

The Trust was created to benefit the Annunciation parish, which did receive $1100, but which alleges that Dokos had used huge amounts of money from the trust, ranging anywhere from $135,000 to $729,000. The Annunciation parish, after many requests to Dokos to provide a complete accountability and failure to receive accurate numbers accordingly, referred the matter to the district attorney and asked him to investigate.

According to hundreds of documents obtained by TNH, Dokos wrote the first check to himself for $5,000 his fee as trustee. He also wrote checks to his personal credit card totaling about $50,000, and checks to his family members and himself totaling $75,000.

Dokos also wrote checks to Bishop Demetrios totaling $7,200, one check to Metropolitan Tarasios of South America for $10,000 and one of $4,500 to Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanelia.

TNH has learned that Margaret Franczak had transferred her Florida apartment to Dokos, and that he sold it.

Dokos denies any wrongdoing, and the Chicago Metropolis attorneys assert that Dokos did nothing inappropriate. But the Milwaukee District Attorney launched a full-scale criminal investigation into the matter.

In May 2012, Bishop Demetrios transferred Fr. Angelo Artemas from Saints Peter and Paul to Annunciation in exchange for Dokos without parish approval or an explanation.

The Tribune wrote in its recent article that “Dokos, now pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Glenview, wrote checks totaling tens of thousands of dollars from that trust fund to himself and used the fund to pay at least $32,000 in credit card bills. As sole trustee of the fund, Dokos also gave several thousand dollars from the trust to a high-ranking official in the Greek Orthodox archdiocese in Chicago, the documents show.”

It was also mentioned that “officials at the Metropolis of Chicago, the Greek Orthodox archdiocese that oversees dozens of parishes in the Midwest, have said their ‘initial conclusion’ was that the trust fund money was spent in accordance with Margaret Franczak’s will and wishes and with the knowledge of the parish council at Milwaukee’s Annunciation Church, which received the bulk of the money from the trust.

Yet the amounts of the checks Dokos wrote to himself from the trust are many times higher than the $5,000 the fund provided him as trustee, according to the documents.

“Records also show that, over the course of about three years, the priest wrote checks totaling at least $6,750 to Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the archdiocese’s chancellor and No. 2-ranking official in Chicago. A Metropolis spokesman described those payments as gifts, calling it ‘traditional and common for honoraria to be given to Hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church.’ He said such gifts may be used for church or personal expenses and are “duly reported as income.’”

Dokos, who has declined comment, has not been charged with a crime, and prosecutors in Milwaukee County said no decision on possible charges has been made in the case.

The article stated that “the matter has already led to turmoil within the Metropolis. In September, its hierarch, Metropolitan Iakovos, sharply rebuked and removed the parish council president at Sts. Peter and Paul in Glenview — a move some council members sought to defy — after the president requested that Dokos be placed on temporary leave until the investigation concludes.

“On October 27, more than 100 parishioners of the Milwaukee church gathered there to hear an update from the parish attorney. The Metropolis also posted a message on its website in early October saying Metropolis leaders ‘stand together to deplore the use of public media outlets as a means of handling internal issues and conflicts that confront the Church.’

“Some religious ethicists and observers of the Greek Orthodox church said the situation also raises questions about whether a clergyman should benefit personally from a parishioner’s will — something one ethicist called “potentially very corrosive of the pastoral relationship” — and whether the practice of priests giving cash gifts to high-ranking superiors truly is, or should be, traditional or common.

From accounts by those who knew them later in life, Ervin and Margaret Franczak remained heavily involved in their Milwaukee church, Annunciation, even after moving full time to Clearwater, Fla.

“Ervin Franczak had worked as a supervisor for an electronics manufacturer, according to his obituary, and when they first established the trust fund in 1984, the couple, who had no children, decided that Annunciation would receive 25 percent of the fund’s value.

Over the years, the trust was revised several times, with the portion earmarked for the church wavering between 20 and 35 percent. After Ervin died, the trust fund’s terms were overhauled significantly, this time setting aside $75,000 total for three charities and, after the trustee would get his $5,000 portion, the “rest residue and remainder” was provided to Annunciation church. It’s in that amendment that Margaret Franczak adds the provision that Dokos personally would get her condominium and car.

“In the will’s final revision, signed months before Margaret Franczak’s death in 2008 at age 95, the amounts to other charities, including the couple’s Florida church, were reduced from $75,000 total to $20,000.

“A few months after Franczak’s funeral, which was held at Annunciation in Milwaukee with Dokos presiding, records show the priest sold her Florida condo for $51,900.

Dokos wrote checks to himself. By that time, according to the bank documents, which include copies of most of the checks written from the account, the priest had written checks totaling more than $33,000 to himself. In addition, he paid at least $32,000 in credit card bills with checks drawn from the trust fund, records show.

“’Obviously I was not hiding anything,’ he wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by the Tribune. ‘I STOLE NO MONEY … just continued to gift the Parish.’

The fund ‘was not a Will where people could read and request for themselves … it was a Trust entrusted to me! … The Franczaks had all their trust in me personally,’ Dokos wrote, according to the document.

“He also indicated some of the money went for ‘parish philanthropy and to pay for Margaret Franczak’s medical and burial expenses. And, he wrote: ‘I can share with you now that the original wish was that their gifting go to the Greek Archdiocese and I convinced them to change their gifting.’

“The trust documents give no indication that the archdiocese was ever specifically listed as a recipient. Dokos said it was ‘sad’ that he was being questioned ‘after 22 years as the Spiritual Father and MAJOR FUNDRAISER for those years raising funds in the millions.’ The priest himself lived in comfortable surroundings for many of those years. Records show that in February 2012, he sold the five-bedroom, 4,600-square-foot Milwaukee-area home he’d owned since 1998 for $800,000, later moving to an apartment in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood after he was reassigned to the Glenview church. The address on the trust fund account also changed, from the Milwaukee church’s address to Dokos’ suburban Milwaukee home and then to the Chicago apartment.’

“Dokos did apparently provide Annunciation officials with an addendum to the trust that bestowed $1 million to the church, according to the lawyer’s letter. The single-page, typed letter listed both Franczaks’ names but was unsigned and dated September 2008 — nine months after Margaret Franczak’s death and years after her husband’s.

‘Dokos states that the date on the letter was a computer error,’ the attorney, Mamalakis, said in his letter to the bishop.

“Another oddity among the trust documents obtained by the Tribune is that at least one version of the final amendment to the trust appears to have been altered, authorities confirmed. Where prior amendments show that Dokos personally was awarded the Franczaks’ condo and automobile, it appears that the name ‘Father James Dokos’ was blacked out in that clause so that it instead reads that the property, car and contents should go to ‘Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.’

“Annunciation church leaders declined comment for this story. ‘This matter is with the DA. We have no comment because commenting would only hurt the church.’

“The Metropolis of Chicago, in its written response to questions from the Tribune, stated that church lawyers and lay members conducted the initial investigation into concerns over how Dokos handled the Franczak trust. That took place after the matter was brought to the Metropolis’ attention by the Milwaukee church.

“In an Aug. 7 letter to the Milwaukee church, Bishop Demetrios wrote that “based on the analysis of counsel,” the Metropolis concluded that the funds ‘were used in accordance with the provision of the Trust, for the benefit of Annunciation Church, or in accordance with the wishes of Margaret Franczak.’ The bishop does not acknowledge in the letter that he received proceeds from the fund in question.

“When asked whether Bishop Demetrios should have recused himself from the investigation, the Metropolis responded that the bishop ‘was not involved in the internal investigation.’”