Money problems roil Greek group, Greektown parade

10 Απριλίου 2012

 Αγωγές, δικαστικές περιπέτειες γιά την Eλληνική Ομοσπονδία

By Andy Grimm, Chicago Tribune reporter

The streets of Athens have been flooded with restive Greeks this spring as a financial meltdown has thrown the peninsula into despair.

In Chicago, a fiscal crisis has struck Greektown as local Hellenic-Americans prepare to fill the streets of the Near West Side for the annual Greek Independence Day Parade on April 22.

The signature festival for the Chicago area’s 100,000-strong population of Greek-Americans has struggled to raise money as organizers have spent the last year in an ugly, public feud over allegations of missing funds.

Enosis, the umbrella organization of churches and community groups that runs the parade, has been in turmoil since its treasurer, Angie Verros, began making allegations of financial mismanagement by its president, Dimitrios Georgakopoulos.

With the parade only a few weeks away, a public feud between the two has divided the community and prompted sponsors to back away for the largest, most high-profile event of the year for local Greeks. Fundraising so far is half what it was last year, Georgakopoulos said.

“We will not have as many floats. The parade, it will not be as big, I don’t think,” Georgakopoulos said. “But I think we will have more people than ever. Everyone is pissed off.”

Georgakopoulos, 67, has been a pillar of Chicago’s Greek community for decades, but his reputation has been battered by the allegations from Verros, whom he recruited to become Enosis’ treasurer in 2010.

Soon after, Verros says, she noticed more than $60,000 in transactions that went on without her approval, including several checks on which she claims her signature was forged.

In the months since, Verros has filed a complaint with the Illinois attorney general’s office, had Georgakopoulos arrested for allegedly assaulting her at an Enosis board meeting and has filed a lawsuit against him for allegedly defrauding Enosis and defaming her with articles in the Greek-language newspaper he owns.

“I used to march in the parade when I was a little girl,” she said recently. “I wanted to help my community. Now I get dirty looks. … I want this all to end. I want to vindicate my name.”

Georgakopoulos said he intends to countersue Verros. He said Verros waited nearly a month to serve him a copy of her lawsuit — on April 27 at a Greek Independence Day gala hosted by the Greek Consulate.

Georgakopoulos also denied assaulting Verros, noting that she had him arrested six months after the alleged incident, as he was giving a speech to Enosis board members. After police took him from the meeting for booking, Georgakopoulos said, the full Enosis board voted to remove Verros as treasurer.

Verros, a generation younger than Georgakopoulos or his fellow Enosis board members, has flamed Georgakopoulos on Enosis’ Facebook and Twitter pages.

Verros’ lawyer, George Panagoulias, said his client wants a full investigation of Enosis.

“Greek people are going to donate money to support this organization, and I don’t know where it’s going to go,” Panagoulias said.

The attorney general’s office still is investigating Verros’ claims, spokeswoman Maura Possley said.

Georgakopoulos recently provided the Tribune with bank records that show a cashier’s check for $38,000 that emptied one of Enosis’ bank accounts was deposited into another Enosis account three days later, part of a planned consolidation of the group’s banking that had been suggested by Verros.

Georgakopoulos’ lawyer said there is no record of a $21,000 withdrawal that is mentioned in Verros’ lawsuit. Other smaller checks totaling around $8,000 were payments to parade vendors who said they had been waiting for payments from Verros, Georgakopoulos said.

Verros also says Georgakopoulos was behind a phony letter written on what appears to be stationery from the attorney general’s office that states the investigation of Enosis was completed in July and found “no evidence of any miss-appropriation (sic) of funds.”

Georgakopoulos published the letter in The Hellenic Voice, his Greek-language newspaper. The letter did not come from the attorney general’s office, and an investigation of Verros’ claims has not been completed, Possley said.

Georgakopoulos said the letter was given to him by Edwin Plotkin, an acquaintance he had asked to help him get Enosis’ financial records back from Verros and deal with the attorney general’s inquiry. In an email, Plotkin told the Tribune he created the “illustrated letter” to better explain the likely outcome of the investigation to Enosis board members, and he told them it was not actually from the attorney general.

Enosis’ bookkeeping problems predate the troubles that surfaced when Verros was in office. The group’s federal tax-exempt status was revoked in 2011 after financial reports were improperly filed for three consecutive years, according to the Internal Revenue Service website. The group has filed paperwork to have its tax-exempt status reinstated, Georgakopoulos said.

Enosis is cooperating with the attorney general’s probe, Possley said. The attorney general’s office has forwarded the forged letter to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, she added.

Georgakopoulos said he hopes the case is closed soon so he can win back the sponsors and local dignitaries who have pulled back support as the allegations have swirled.

The feud is dwarfed in scale by the fiscal crisis in Greece — Enosis each year takes in about $100,000, with most of the money raised going to parade-related expenses — but Georgakopoulos said he sees in the Enosis tempest the same corrosive politics that have roiled protests in the motherland.

“This is a very hard time for the Greek people (in Greece),” he said. “We all need to come together.”

,Chicago Tribune