Greek Orthodox priest pleads guilty in church theft case, avoids jail

Author: Robert McCoppin
Date Published: 02/22/2016
The Rev. James Dokos, left, and his attorney Patrick Knight appear in court in Milwaukee on July 18, 2014. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)
The Rev. James Dokos, left, and his attorney Patrick Knight appear in court in Milwaukee on July 18, 2014. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

A Greek Orthodox priest charged with stealing more than $100,000 from his parish pleaded guilty Monday to felony theft in a case that caused deep rifts in the church and prompted criticism of Greek Orthodox leaders in Chicago for their handling of the controversy.

The Rev. James Dokos was accused of taking the money from a trust fund that was intended to benefit Annunciation Church in Milwaukee and instead spending it on himself, family members and other church leaders, including cash gifts to a high-ranking church official in Chicago.

Dokos was later transferred to Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Glenview but was suspended after he was charged with felony theft in Milwaukee.

Under a settlement approved in Milwaukee court, Dokos avoided any jail time. He agreed to plead guilty to felony theft, and prosecutors agreed to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if the priest meets the terms of the agreement and remains out of legal trouble for one year. He has already paid the church full restitution, officials said, and also must serve 40 hours of community service.

In court, Dokos, 63, told the judge he understood the terms but he did not speak further. He also left court without commenting.

One Glenview parishioner said he was disappointed that Dokos did not apologize during or after court.

What remains unclear is whether Dokos will now resume his priestly duties. A spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said it was too early to say whether Dokos would be subject to disciplinary action by the church.

Prosecutor David Robles called the outcome “appropriate” and said it was “in the interests of everyone” to have closure in the case. Robles said he presented the terms of the deal to church leaders and members in Milwaukee last week and said they were generally supportive of it.

The scandal roiled the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, causing rifts between the church hierarchy in Chicago and some leaders and members of the Glenview and Milwaukee parishes. Metropolis leaders, who oversee dozens of churches in the Midwest, ousted the parish council president in Glenview after he raised questions about how the internal investigation was handled, and other members left in protest. The priest who replaced Dokos in Milwaukee, and who had spoken out about the case, was later transferred.

Before church leaders in Milwaukee contacted local authorities about concerns over the trust fund, the Metropolis conducted its own investigation and determined that Dokos had spent the funds in accordance with the wishes of the couple who had willed the money to the church.

Court records and a Tribune investigation showed that Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the No. 2 official in the Metropolis in Chicago, received more than $6,000 in checks over about a three-year period that were written from the trust fund account and signed by Dokos. A spokesman later described such gifts to priests as “honoraria” that are traditional in the church and said the source was not questioned.

The bishop was later warned by a Milwaukee prosecutor about “potential efforts to intimidate witnesses” in the case related to emails he exchanged with the Milwaukee priest who was later transferred.

Before Dokos left Annunciation in 2012, he controlled the seven-figure trust fund. The vast majority of the money in the fund — more than $1.1 million — was paid to the church, but court records indicate that Dokos spent tens of thousands on personal expenses such as jewelry for his wife, shopping trips and pricey dinners, and gave monetary gifts to family members as well as the church leaders.

After Dokos was transferred to the Glenview church, leaders at Annunciation began looking at financial records and raising questions about how the trust fund money was spent. They first reported their concerns to the Metropolis in 2013.

Metropolis officials argued that the matter should be settled by the church internally, rather than in court.

A Metropolis spokesman could not be reached for comment after the plea Monday.

Jim Gottreich is the former Sts. Peter and Paul parish council president who was ousted by Metropolis officials after asking them to place Dokos on leave during the criminal investigation. Before Monday’s hearing, Gottreich said he believed the priest should serve time.

“He has destroyed two churches,” Gottreich said. “I’d like to see him go to jail.”

Gottreich was among several people who have or had ties to the Glenview church and criticized not just Dokos but the Metropolis leadership for its handling of the case.

“The fish rots from the head,” he said.

George Karcazes, who served on the parish’s stewardship committee, called the plea a “good deal” for Dokos and called on the Metropolis to remove Dokos from the priesthood. Karcazes said he would have liked to see Dokos issue an apology, saying: “He apparently doesn’t have any shame.”

Karcazes also called for discipline for Bishop Demetrios and the church leader in Chicago, Metropolitan Iakovos, over their handling of the matter.

Milwaukee County Judge Jeffrey Conen approved the agreement. He found Dokos guilty based on the facts of the case that Dokos agreed to, but the conviction will not be formally entered into the record until it’s determined whether Dokos complies with its terms.

“I believe it is in the best interests of the parties and the best interests of the community,” the judge said.

Since he was charged, Dokos missed several court appearances, absences that have been mostly attributed by his lawyers to health problems.

rmccoppin@tribpub.com

Twitter @RobertMcCoppin