The former treasurer of St. George Greek Orthodox Church will serve the first portion of a 10-year split sentence in a Knox County jail this month after his guilty plea Friday to stealing more than $400,000 from church coffers.
Constantine D. Christodoulou, 48, of Knoxville is slated to report Jan. 22 to begin serving one year in jail, with nine years on probation, according to Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen.
Christodoulou is entitled to whatever jail credits he can accumulate to shorten the sentence, said Assistant District Attorney General Sean McDermott.
Knox County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley said jail officials were unable to say how much time could be shaved off Christoldoulou's one-year sentence. She said jail officials did not have Christoldoulou's paperwork, so they couldn't determine which sentence-shrinking credits might apply to his case.
Credits can be awarded for good behavior, educational courses, substance abuse classes and working around the jail.
Christodoulou's sentencing concludes a story that began Feb. 26, when the Rev. Anthony Stratis informed church members through a letter that the former treasurer had been stealing from them for years. Church officials did not report the theft to police until two months after the News Sentinel published a story on the embezzlement. Stratis had initially written in the letter that the church would not seek prosecution.
Christodoulou between Dec. 30, 2010, and Feb. 21, 2015, "wrote checks to himself from church accounts that were not authorized by church officials," Allen stated in a news release. He placed the money into "business and personal accounts," she said.
Allen placed the total theft at $415,950. Christodoulou has repaid $145,000 of the pilfered money, Allen said, and the church's insurance company paid $50,000 on the claim.
Allen said the church spent $3,725 internally investigating the theft.
Christodoulou has agreed to pay another $224,675 in restitution, Allen said.
"Under the terms of this agreement, we made sure Christodoulou will serve time in custody for his crime and will be supervised upon his release," Allen said. "Most importantly, we have retained jurisdiction over the case to make sure Christodoulou pays his restitution and the church is made whole."
Christodoulou appeared Friday morning with his attorney, Mike Whalen, before Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee and agreed to be charged through a bill of information. Through that agreement, Christodoulou waived his right to a grand jury review or to a trial.
Christodoulou's probation means officials will have legal control over him to be sure he repays the embezzled money.
Christodoulou did not respond to calls for comment.
"It's a lot of money," Whalen said Friday.
He would not address what the money was spent on.
"Once it became apparent, he admitted to it," Whalen said.
Whalen said Christodoulou sold his travel business and a house to raise the $145,000 already repaid and plans to sell other properties to reimburse the church. He said the Christodoulou family had been active in the church for decades, but Constantine Christodoulou apparently no longer participates in church services.
"This is a community he has been a part of all his life, so it's not been easy on him," Whalen said.
McDermott said he didn't know what Christodoulou had done with the pilfered money.
The theft left the church with less than $2,000 in its bank accounts, prompting church leaders to approve obtaining a $150,000 loan to stabilize finances.
The low cash balance also delayed a decision to install a fire alarm system that had been reviewed and approved by the church, Stratis said.
At 6:50 a.m. April 12 — the Eastern Orthodox Easter — a passerby reported flames in the sanctuary. By then, flames already had damaged the ornate dome in the sanctuary and raced through the structure.
Knoxville fire investigators eventually settled upon candles used in the night service that ended early in the morning April 12 as the probable cause of the fire. Someone had tossed a candle in a trash can and didn't douse it in the tray of sand at the rear of the sanctuary, investigators said.