When the Parish Council at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church realized the church's former pastor may have misused some $200,000, council members initially did not want to refer him to the district attorney for possible criminal charges, but they felt they had no choice, their attorney told the congregation Sunday.
"The intention was not to have this turn into what it has," attorney Emmanuel Mamalakis told church members.
Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Feiss said Friday that he still has an open investigation into the allegations against the priest, the Rev. James Dokos.
No criminal charges have been filed yet.
Dokos served as leader of the Milwaukee church, 9400 W. Congress St., for about 20 years. During the latter part of his tenure, Dokos also controlled a trust of more than $1 million left to the church by Ervin and Margaret Franszak in 2008.
Feiss is investigating whether Dokos violated the rules of the trust by using money for personal expenses.
Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the church's chancellor in Chicago, concluded in August that Dokos did nothing wrong.
Dokos is now serving at Saints Peter & Paul Orthodox Church in Glenview, Ill.
He did not return a telephone message left there.
Mamalakis, a member of Annunciation's congregation who also serves as its legal adviser, said he felt it was important to brief fellow church members about the decision to pursue criminal charges.
He recently got Feiss' approval to do so, Mamalakis said.
When questions first arose in February, Dokos already had moved to Glenview, Mamalakis said.
Suspicions arose when a check for $193 arrived at Annunciation to reimburse Dokos for a health insurance premium, Mamalakis said, adding that the premium had been paid with money from the trust account.
Parish Council members realized they did not have a copy of the trust and asked for one in an effort to keep their books updated, the attorney said.
They realized the money was supposed to be used only for construction and upkeep of the church's cultural center, he said.
On Sunday, during his 45-minute presentation to church members, Mamalakis detailed his own efforts and those of the Parish Council to get answers from Dokos or to have the bishop take over the inquiry.
Their primary goal was to be sure the council fulfilled its financial responsibilities and did not end up on the hook later, he said.
They went to the district attorney six months after the discrepancies were discovered, worried that if they waited much longer, they would not have the opportunity to recover the money in court.
The statute of limitations for filing criminal charges, which could result in the money being repaid via court-ordered restitution, is six years.
The statute of limitations to try to recover the money through a civil suit is four years, he said.
The final straw was when Dokos blacked out portions of an agreement that would have waived those time limits before he signed it, Mamalakis said.
Annunciation's current pastor, the Rev. Angelo Artemas, said the church will not file a civil suit against Dokos, regardless of Feiss' decision.
"There are certain things we need to stay focused on," he told parishioners. "Our public officials will do what they need to do."
The church's focus, he said, must remain on God.
Artemas and Mamalakis spoke with the church members in a wing of the parish's historical center named after Dokos.
His name, in gold letters, adorns the wall outside the meeting room where Mamalakis detailed the allegations against the former pastor.
"I loved him a lot. I think he was a wonderful guy. I think he was a good guy," said Mamalakis, who served as an altar boy during Dokos' tenure. "The church and I are definitely looking forward to this process being done. It is not a fun thing to go through."