Priest facing charge in solicitation sting

Author: Jane Meinhardt; Maureen Byrne
Date Published: 08/28/1999

Clearwater police charged about 20 people when an undercover vice detective posed as a prostitute.

A local priest is facing a charge that he tried to pick up a prostitute during an undercover operation by Clearwater police.

Koumninos Hatzileris, 52, has pleaded innocent to a solicitation for prostitution charge stemming from the July 30 incident. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.

On court records, Hatzileris said he is employed by the Greek Orthodox Church.

However, Bishop Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Church diocese in Atlanta said Friday that Hatzileris is not affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church of America. With headquarters in New York, the church has 1.5-million members and is the largest segment of the Orthodox community in the United States.

Hatzileris listed his address on court records as 1910 Douglas Ave. in Clearwater, which is the Hellenic Orthodox Church. Formerly a Baptist church, the building is undergoing renovations.

His current status at the church is unclear. Hatzileris could not be reached on Friday. His attorney, Anthony Ekonomides of Tampa, was unavailable, according to an office spokeswoman.

In a May St. Petersburg Times story about the church’s renovations, Hatzileris said he has about 150 parishioners. He said the church is being renovated to conform with the traditions of the Orthodox Christian faith, including a naturally lit dome, altar that faces east and stained-glass windows.

On July 30, Clearwater police were operating a reverse sting operation with an undercover vice detective posing as a prostitute. The detail was in the 1400 block of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, which police spokesman Wayne Shelor said is an area where prostitution has been a problem.

According to a police report and arrest affidavit, Hatzileris was driving by at 1:45 p.m., stopped and approached the police decoy. He is accused of offering her $20 for a sex act.

Police charged him with solicitation, a misdemeanor, and gave Hatzileris a notice to appear in court. Shelor said Hatzileris was one of about 20 people charged during the operation.

Lt. Frank Daly said that depending on circumstances involved, it is not uncommon for police to issue notices to appear during such investigations.