TOTOWA, N.J. (AP) — The manager of a popular New Jersey diner who felt he wasn't getting his fair share of the profits tried to have a hit man kill his uncle, who co-owns the restaurant and a second diner in New York City, authorities said Wednesday.
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 said.
The 57-year-old uncle also manages the other Tick Tock diner, a popular tourist spot 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 in lieu of $1 million 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 motived 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. 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 cellphones 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.
Authorities said the undercover operation was started as the result of a tip from a state police informant.
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, a popular spot among fans attending Jets and Giants games at the stadium in the Meadowlands a few miles away, 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."