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Monday, May 2, 2016

The Tick Tock Diner Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1987, Alex Sgourdos and his two brothers-in-law bought the Tick Tock Diner on New Jersey's Route 3 west of the Meadowlands a few miles from the Lincoln Tunnel that takes you under the Hudson River into midtown Manhattan. The diner not only became a successful business enterprise, it grew into a New Jersey landmark. (Scenes from a dozen movies take place in the diner.)

     In February 2013, one of the diner's managers, 45-year-old Georgious Spyropoulos, tried to hire a hitman to kill his Uncle Alex. Spyropoulos was married to the daughter of one of Mr. Sgourdos' partners.

     In late February 2013, Mr. Spyroupoulos asked a regular patron of the diner if he could put him in touch with a professional killer. The man Spyropoulos reached out to happened to be a regular informant for the New Jersey State Police. As is often the case, the murder-for-hire plot unraveled before it got off the ground.

     In March, the police informant came to the diner with an undercover officer playing the role of contract killer. Later that month, at a meeting in a nearby Home Depot parking lot, Spyropoulos and the undercover cop discussed how the murder-for-hire target would be killed. According to court records, the hitman was to enter Mr. Sgourdos' 6,000-square foot house late on a Sunday night after the diner owner had deposited that day's receipts in his home safe. (The daily receipts usually came to about $20,000.) The mastermind provided the phony hitman with instructions on how to circumvent the dwelling's security system, and said that if the target's wife got in the way, she should be murdered as well.

     Mr. Spyropoulos, according to police affidavits, informed the hitman that his uncle kept a lot of cash in his safe. To acquire the combination, the mastermind suggested that torture might be required. "You can get anything out of anybody with a pair of pliers," he said.

     According to the plan, after the hitman murdered Mr. Sgourdos, Spyropoulos wanted the body disposed of in a way that would cause the authorities to treat the matter as a missing persons case. Spyropoulos handed the undercover cop $3,000 and a revolver, and said they would split whatever was in the Tick Tock Diner owner's safe. Hinting that the Sgourdos hit would be one of a series of murder assignments, Spyropoulos said, "We'll have a lot more to do." (As is always the case, the entire murder-for-hire conversation was taped by the police.)

     On April 9, 2013, officers with the New Jersey State Police entered the Tick Tock Diner at noon and took Georgios Spyropoulos into custody. Charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation of murder, the suspect was incarcerated in the Passaic County Jail on $1 million bond.

     On July 13, 2014, Georgios Spyropoulos pleaded guilty to plotting the murder of his uncle. In September 2014, Passaic County Judge Ernest Caposela sentenced Spropoulos to eight years in prison. Had Spyropoulos been convicted as charged, he would have been sent to prison for at least 20 years.

     According to the state prosecutor who handled the case, Spyropoulos, even after he entered his guilty plea, showed no remorse for his role in the murder-for-hire plot. He is eligible for parole in less than seven years.

     When it comes to sentencing, our criminal justice system often makes no sense. 

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