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Georgios Spyropoulos: Manager of iconic New Jersey diner featured on popular Food Network reality show 'tried to hire hit man to kidnap, torture and kill his uncle in feud over profits'
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PUBLISHED: 19:37 EST, 10 April 2013 | UPDATED: 19:56 EST, 10 April 2013
Murder-for-hire plot: Georgios Spyropoulos was arrested at the Tick Tock Diner that he manages in Clifton, NJ on conspiracy charges in a plot to have a hit man kill his uncle
The manager of a beloved New Jersey diner who felt he wasn't getting his fair share of the profits tried to have a hit man kill the co-owner of the eatery, who also happens to be his uncle, police said.
Georgios Spyropoulos, the 45-year-old manager of the Tick Tock diner in Clifton, asked an undercover trooper posing as a hit man to kill Alexandros Sgourdos and to get rid of the body so it couldn't be found, authorities revealed Wednesday.
The 57-year-old uncle also co-owns the other Tick Tock diner, a popular tourist destination across the street from Penn Station in Manhattan.
Authorities said Spyropoulos resented the control his uncle exerted over the New Jersey restaurant, which was featured on Guy Fieri's Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. They said he also felt his uncle was taking an unfair share of the profits.
‘I think it's an understatement to say they weren't close,’ Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa told a news conference.
Spyropoulos was being held on $1million bail on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and unlawful possession of a weapon. A message was left for his attorney.
Chiesa said investigators believe Spyropoulos was motivated by greed and wanted to steal a large amount of cash that his uncle kept in a safe.
Spyropoulos told the undercover officer, Chiesa said, to make sure to get the combination to his uncle's safe before killing him.
Beloved eatery: Tic Tock, known for its motto, Eat Heavy, and its gravy and cheese-doused disco fries is considered a landmark to many people who live or travel along Route 3 in northern New Jersey
Spyropoulos suggested the undercover officer kidnap the uncle from his Clifton home and torture him until he gave up the combination, Chiesa said.
The nephew provided the officer with a $3,000 down payment, a photo of his uncle, a map of his home and his daily schedule, including how he parked his car, authorities said. He also allegedly provided an unregistered handgun.
‘Once I leave here today, this is on,’ authorities say the undercover officer told the owner's nephew during an April 2 meeting.
The total payment for the killing and disposal of the body was to be $20,000.
The nephew wanted to make sure the body was not found so that it remained a missing person case, not a murder investigation, authorities said.
If his uncle's wife posed any problem, Spyropoulos told the officer to kill her, too, authorities said.
Authorities said a search of Spyropoulos' home turned up two semi-automatic handguns, a shotgun and what the attorney general's office called an ‘assault-style rifle.’
Chiesa said six cell phones and several thousand dollars in cash were recovered from the nephew's Mercedes Benz.
Both Spyropoulos, who is originally from Athens, Greece, and his uncle, live in Clifton.
Dining landmark: Alexandros Sgourdos also co-owns the other Tick Tock diner, a popular tourist destination across the street from Penn Station in Manhattan
Spyropoulos was taken into custody shortly before noon Tuesday at the diner. Chiesa said the manager appeared 'shocked' when officials slapped the handcuffs on him as he sat behind the cash register.
‘We are shocked, disappointed and dismayed as to the allegations,’ Joe Pojanowski, a lawyer for ABS Diner Inc., which owns the Tick Tock, told Bloomberg.com. ‘There were no signs of this coming.’
The 45-year-old suspect allegedly began plotting to have his relative murdered sometime in February. He mentioned his nefarious plan to a customer, who turned out to be a State Police informant.
Based on the tip, authorities enlisted the help of a state trooper, who posed as a gun-for-hire. The three of them met on several occasions, during which the informant wore an electronic wire.
The trio first got together at the TGI Friday's on Route 3 March 3, NorthJersey.com reported. During the meet-up, Spyropoulos allegedly told the two men he took to be hit men that he wanted them to kills his uncle and dispose of his body, believing that a missing persons case would go unnoticed.
During a final gathering on April 2 held in the parking lot of a home improvement store, the 45-year-old diner manager allegedly handed the would-be assassin the down payment, an unregistered handgun and a map to his uncle's house.
He also signed off on the potential murder of his aunt if she decided to intervene in the kidnapping and murder plot.
‘That’s how cold-blooded this guy was,’ Chiesa said.
As seen on TV: The New Jersey restaurant was featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, in which Guy Fieri (far right) visits eateries and talks to owners and managers like Spyropoulos (center)
Chiesa acknowledged that the case played to New Jersey archetypes involving nefarious plans hatched in diner booths.
‘This is sort of out of a script right in New Jersey, where you're going to meet at the Tick Tock diner to rub out your uncle to advance yourself,’ he said.
‘I understand that reaction of it, but from a law enforcement perspective, we're focused on the safety of the person who is the target.’
The classic chrome diner is a popular spot among fans attending Jets and Giants games at the stadium in the Meadowlands a few miles away.
The eatery, known for its motto, Eat Heavy, and its gravy and cheese-doused disco fries is considered a landmark to many people who live or travel along Route 3 in northern New Jersey.
Patrons lunching there Wednesday were shocked by the news.
‘It's your basic New Jersey family diner,’ said Bela Makula, a frequent customer who works nearby. ‘A standard, New Jersey diner that people try to emulate all over the country.’
Asked if he thought the case reflected poorly on the state, Makula replied without a pause:
‘Everybody knows that New Jersey is full of criminals and killers.’