Two former officials with a Schererville restaurant will not have to testify in the criminal trial against the business’s current owner after a federal judge ruled Friday that they were protected by their right not to incriminate themselves.
Attorney Scott King had subpoenaed Chris Gerodemos and Stavros Strogilos to testify in the trial of King’s clients, Michael and Tina McClellan, but the two men filed motions asking to squash the subpoenas because the government has not granted them immunity. “Gerodemos’ concern of future prosecution is not fanciful; both the government and the McClellans have alleged that he committed wrongdoing in the course of his business practices,” Paul Stracci, attorney for both of the men, said in his filing for Gerodemos.
Michael McClellan is accused of harboring immigrants who entered the country illegally by letting those who worked for him live at a house behind the restaurant, the Paragon, and of mail fraud by not including them as part of unemployment taxes he paid to the state.
King has asserted at trial that the immigrants who worked at the restaurant were actually hired by the former owners, Gerodemos’ family, who also own multiple other restaurants in the county, including the Paragon Restaurant in Hobart and Gino’s Steak House in Dyer and Merrillville.
King claims the Gerodemos family made McClellan keep Chris Gerodemos on after he bought the restaurant in 2008 and that the family was the one to skim cash from the register in order to pay the immigrants without alerting the government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Bell has said in court filings that the government does believe the Gerodemos did violate the law by using immigrants who entered the country illegally as employees but that the government does not plan to charge them. However, the government is also not granting them immunity.
King told U.S. District Judge Philip Simon during a hearing while the jury was out of the courtroom that he planned to ask Gerodemos and Strogilos about their history with the restaurant before and after the sale and their knowledge about paying the immigrants themselves.
Both men said under oath that if asked those questions in front of the jury, they would invoke their constitutional right not to incriminate themselves. Simon ruled that although King was right to seek the men’s testimony, his line of questioning focused on whether they participated in the crimes.
“All of which very well could incriminate Mr. Strogilos and Mr. Gerodemos,” Simon said, granting the men’s request to not testify.
King said after the hearing that he understood the ruling and that although he wishes the men were given immunity so they could testify, he can’t make the government do so.
“I believe there would be evidence beneficial to my clients,” King said.
The trial, which started Tuesday, is set to continue Monday. Attorneys have said they expect the trial to last up to two weeks.
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ Post-Tribune