It was like a scene in a noir movie. Seated at a table at TGI Fridays, one of the managers of the nearby Tick Tock diner on Route 3 in northern New Jersey was speaking quietly to another man about wanting to have the owner killed. His instructions were specific: the hit man was supposed to torture the victim before killing him in order to get the combination of a safe in which Georgios Spyropoulos, 45, believed his boss had stashed a lot of cash.
As court documents would later show, he allegedly did not care whether the victim’s wife was murdered or not during the hit and even said that the hitman was welcome to kill her as well. There was just one catch in Spyropoulos’ plan: unbeknownst to him, he was speaking to an undercover detective who was wearing a wire, resulting in Spyropoulos’ arrest and charges of attempted murder and robbery.
The Right Locale
Indeed, for Spyropoulos or anyone else seeking a freelance killer for that matter, northern Jersey is rightly or wrongly seen as an easy place to find a hitman. After all, it was not by accident that the producers of the “Sopranos” decided to film what is now a modern classic TV series about the mafia in that area.
“This is sort of out of a script, right here in New Jersey, where you’re going to meet at the Tick Tock Diner and to rub out your uncle in order to advance yourself,” New Jersey Attorney General Jeff Chiesa said during a press conference following Spyropoulos’ arrest.
The Tick Tock sits on a hill along Route 3 just a short distance from where one can see the Manhattan skyline. The diner also overlooks what is known as the Meadowlands, a brackish swath of marshland next to the Hudson River and a popular spot for dumping bodies and guns. Many think that Jimmy Hoffa is buried underneath the Meadowlands Stadium where the New York Giants play.
Besides its location in supposed mafia territory, the Tick Tock is also one of the most famous and popular diners in the area, in a state that has more diners than anywhere in the U.S. Long considered a landmark, its multicolored neon lights burn bright all night seven days a week and is easily recognized by anyone driving along Route 3, just a few miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan.
The diner is a favorite among the locals and tourists alike who can count on the Tick Tock for a wide variety of eats, whether you want a Matzo Ball soup or the standard fare of a cheeseburger and fries in the afternoon or in the middle of the night. While the service has received some negative reviews in travel guides, many appreciate the real-deal “Jersey attitude” of the waitresses that comes with the food. “Eat Heavy,” the sign says.
Spyropoulos also fit the caricature of the typical manager at one of many Greek-owned diners scattered around New Jersey and the greater New York City area. He was often seen at the front entrance, greeting and bidding farewell to customers. Before police arrested and handcuffed him, he hardly showed any outwardly signs of distress to the diner’s patrons. However, court records and a subsequent lawsuit indicated that trouble was indeed brewing.
Desperate and Deadly?
Chiesa told the press in the immediate aftermath of Spyropoulos’ arrest that his plot to have his wife’s uncle killed was “motivated by greed,” without going into any more detail about his motives. Prosecutors will inevitably later divulge more specifics about why Spyropoulos wanted his wife’s uncle dead for cash as they meticulously prepare their case. But in the meantime, public records have revealed that Spyropoulos may have been in desperate need of money, serving as a potential motive for having his wife’s uncle killed. The Star Ledger, a local New Jersey newspaper, for example, reported that Spyropoulos once owed $11,391.28 in back taxes on his Clifton home and was facing a possible seizure of the home that he shared with his wife. However, the listing for the sale of his house in order to recover the taxes owed was removed from the records, indicating that he made the payments in time to avoid forfeiture of the house.
Potentially adding to Spyropoulos’ money woes, a former Tick Tock waitress is suing him for sexual harassment after he allegedly groped her and sent her offensive text messages, NJ.com reported. In an ironic twist of fate, Alexandros Sgourdos, the man Spyropoulos wanted dead for his money, and two other co-owners of the Tick Tock, were named as defendants in the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff was fired in retaliation by the owners when she brought the alleged matter to their attention.
More evidence indicating that Spyropoulos had money troubles will likely be forthcoming as the investigation continues.
“The detectives are pouring over all of the evidence they have,” Lt. Stephen Jones told Crime Library. “As the court dates comes closer, we will have more to address about the [money] issue.”
Soon after Spyropoulos came up with his plan to have his wife’s uncle killed, he put the word out to some of his more shady contacts that he was looking for a hitman. The word also got around to the New Jersey State Police’s network of informants about what Spyropoulos was up to. He soon after came into contact with someone he thought was a capable would-be assassin.
After the first meeting, Spyropoulos seemed confident that he thought he had found the right man for the job. The man who showed up at the diner at least looked and acted like a hitman. Detectives would not divulge specifics about the undercover detective’s appearance in order to protect his identity, but said that he looked the part.
“This particular detective has worked murder-for-hire cases before. He exhibits a persona that definitely fits the role,” Lieutenant Jones told Crime Library. “He looks dangerous and acts dangerous. He definitely created trust in his ability to carry out the acts for the defendant.”
Spyropoulos told the undercover detective posing as a hitman that Sgourdos was greedily stashing away cash that Spyropoulos said Sgourdos owed him. The cash, he thought, was kept in a safe at another Tick Tock diner that Sgourdos owned in Manhattan.
During the course of their dealings, Spyropoulos gave the undercover detective a pair of pliers with which to torture Sgourdos just outside of his home until he revealed the combination to the safe. Spyropoulos explained how to disable the security cameras outside of the home and gave him a map to get there and details about his schedule. He even described how his intended victim parked his car. Spyropoulos also gave the “hired killer” an unregistered handgun, a photo of the intended target, and a down payment of $3,000.
The police informant who introduced Spyropoulos to the “hitman” was supposed to go to the Manhattan-based Tick Tock with the combination to open the safe. To do that, Spyropoulos gave him a disguise to look like an exterminator so he would not arouse suspicion when he entered the restaurant. He gave him the disguise in a metal pastry box.
After killing him, Spyropoulos said he wanted to make sure that the victim’s body would disappear, thus prompting a missing person’s investigation instead of a murder inquiry. Spyropoulos also hinted that he planned to disappear as well, possibly leaving the country.
More Names on the Murder List?
Court documents revealed that Spyropoulos might have wanted other people dead. He allegedly told the undercover detective posing as the hitman that wanted him to kill the wife of his victim if she were to witness anything. He reportedly said that he didn’t “give a [expletive]” what might happen to Sgourdos’ wife if she got in the way during the torture and murder, the Star Ledger reported.
Spyropoulos alluded to the possibility that he might want other people dead as well. “We’ll have a lot more to do,” Spyropoulos allegedly told the detective, according to the Star Ledger.
The Star Ledger also reported that Spyropoulos threatened former waitresses, according to statements they gave the police. He allegedly told one of his former employees that he would “spend all his money to make sure she is buried alive” if she went to the police.
After Spyropoulos’ arrest, police uncovered an assortment of evidence at his home, including two semiautomatic handguns, a shotgun, and an assault style rifle. They found six cell phones and “several thousand dollars” in cash in the silver Mercedes in which he drove to and from the Tick Tock. The police so far have not determined why Spyropoulos had so many cell phones in his possession.
“Motivated by greed, Spyropoulos allegedly had planned in great detail how he would have his uncle tortured, robbed and murdered, and he had enlisted two men who he thought were going to carry out his ruthless plot,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “Fortunately, the State Police were able to completely ensnare him in his own diabolical trap.”
Spyropoulos was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, attempt to commit murder, and unlawful possession of a weapons.
He is now out on bail after the bail amount was reduced from $1 million to $600,000 in full cash and must wear an ankle bracelet, under the terms of his release.
Spyropoulos’ attorney, who maintains that Spyropoulos is innocent of the charges, told the NY Daily News that the entire family was devastated by the ordeal.
“This is a close-knit family, notwithstanding the charges, the attorney told the NY Daily News. “They are heartbroken over this — and that includes the alleged victim.”