PATERSON, N.J. (AP) — A northern New Jersey diner manager pleaded not guilty Friday to trying to hire an assassin to kill his uncle as more details emerged about the alleged plot, including the purported hit man's account of a chrome-plated revolver wrapped in dish towels and a pastry box containing accessories for a disguise.
Georgios Spyropoulos' lawyer, meanwhile, described his client as a devoted, passionate man whose close-knit family — including the alleged target — had been traumatized by the allegations.
Spyropoulos appeared in state Superior Court in Paterson shackled and in prison garb for the brief proceeding. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, and his bail remains at $1 million cash. Attorney Matthew Cavaliere said he would try to get the bail adjusted so that Spyropoulos would have the chance to post a bond or property.
"The family is distraught, they're mortified, they're embarrassed," Cavaliere said after the hearing. "This is a family of strong, passionate personalities. They know him; they know his personality. They can't believe he would ever have the idea to orchestrate something like this."
Prosecutors allege Spyropoulos asked an undercover state trooper posing as a hit man to kill Alexandros Sgourdos and to get rid of the body. Sgourdos co-owns the Tick Tock diners in Clifton, where Spyropoulos is manager, and Manhattan.
The classic chrome diner is considered a landmark to people who drive Route 3 in Clifton and has been featured on Guy Fieri's Food Network show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."
Spyropoulos is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and unlawful possession of a weapon.
According to court documents, state authorities began investigating Spyropoulos in February after he allegedly approached a state police drug informant seeking someone to kill Sgourdos, whom Spyropoulos believed to have a considerable amount of money. A state police undercover detective played the role of the hit man and attended several meetings with Spyropoulos over the ensuing weeks that were secretly recorded.
Spyropoulos wanted one of them to extract the combination to a safe at the diner from Sgourdos before killing him, then have the other dress as an exterminator and remove the money from the safe, according to the arrest affidavit. The hit man was to be paid from the cash stolen out of the safe.
The purported hit man told investigators that Spyropoulos gave him a chrome-plated revolver wrapped in two white dish towels at an April 2 meeting at a Home Depot parking lot not far from the diner. He also provided $3,000 and a picture of Sgourdos, saying, "That's the piece of (bleep)." The hit man was to eventually receive an additional $17,000.
Three days later at the diner, according to the affidavit, Spyropoulos gave the initial informant a white pastry box containing roach spray and insect traps for the exterminator ruse.
State police arrested Spyropoulos on Tuesday after they were unable to immediately locate Sgourdos and became concerned that Spyropoulos may have solicited other people to carry out the hit, a state police detective sergeant wrote in a handwritten note attached to the affidavit.
It wasn't clear if any of Spyropoulos' family attended Friday's court proceeding. Cavaliere said the entire family is in shock.
"This is a close-knit family, notwithstanding the charges," he said. "They are heartbroken over this — and that includes the alleged victim."