The suspects, members of the Gonos family, own the Dianna’s Deli restaurants in Perkins Township and Port Clinton, as well as the Depot Family Restaurant in Sandusky.
Armed with assault rifles and a search warrant, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security-Office of Inspector General stormed the family’s $671,000 home at 858 Crosstree Lane at about 8:30 a.m.
Haralambos Gonos, 52; Andreas Gonos, 28; Chris Gonos, 31; Kryiakos Gonos, 30; and Sofia Skoura, 52, all of Crosstree Lane, were all indicted in U.S. Federal Court on charges of conspiracy to structure financial transactions to evade filing currency transaction reports and conspiracy to structure financial transactions to evade filing form 8300.
In short, the indictment alleges they were making cash deposits of less than $10,000 apiece to dodge federal laws on reporting banking transactions.
According to the indictment, investigators are now trying to seize about $1.5 million in assets from the family, including two high-end sports cars.
Haralambos, owner of the Dianna’s Deli restaurants and the Depot restaurant, was indicted alongside Skoura on an additional single count of conspiracy to engage in bulk cash smuggling.
A caravan of about 14 unmarked federal vehicles screeched down Crosstree Lane shortly after dawn, stopping outside the Gonos home, where agents jumped out with guns drawn and surrounded the place, witnesses said.
“I was just sitting here and all of a sudden all these cars come speeding down the street,” neighbor Neal Sabino said. “They came loaded for bear — flack jackets and all.”
When Neal and his wife, Nancy Sabino, went out to check on the commotion, agents ordered them to go back inside.
“Then this big guy with a SWAT uniform, holding an M16, said, ‘Please, go back in your house,’” Sabino said. “I’m just amazed. That kind of stuff isn’t supposed to happen around here.”
Agents went into the home and quickly emerged with a woman. Border Patrol agents escorted the woman to an SUV, then drove her away from the scene.
Sabino said he never knew the Gonos to be violent or troublesome.
“They just kind of kept to themselves,” he said.
Still, there was one thing kind of strange, Nancy recalled. Almost every summer before the family headed back to their native Greece, a large shipping container would appear in front of the the Gonos home. The container would sit there for a few weeks. Then, just as it appeared, it’d be gone, she said.
Erie County commissioner Bill Monaghan, who lives two doors down from the Gonos family, said he left at about 7 a.m. Monday and noticed two Border Patrol SUVs parked outside the neighborhood.
“I was thinking, ‘I wonder what these guys are doing over here,” he said.
He soon had his answer. When he returned home about an hour later, there were about a dozen cars parked outside the Gonos home.
“Texas license plates, Illinois license plates, Michigan license plates,” Monaghan said.
According to a federal indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Haralambos and Skoura got busted by U.S. Customs agents in January at Detroit Metro Airport, carrying a total of $14,736 between the two of them. They were trying to board a flight to Amsterdam. Federal law demands travelers carrying more than $10,000 report it at customs.
The federal indictment lists dozens of transactions in 2007, 2008 and 2009, most in amounts ranging from about $2,000 to $9,500. The indictment alleges “all of the Gonos family members regularly ‘skim’ cash generated from their restaurants, which they have used for personal purposes.”
“Since 2005, the members of the Gonos family have made over 200 deposits totaling over $1.8 million in cash at numerous financial institutions,” the indictment states.
While depositing money into a bank account isn’t a crime, the method the Gonos family used to deposit their money was criminal, the indictment states.
Federal law requires banks to report any deposit over $10,000. The Gonos made multiple deposits under $10,000 over a short period of time in order to avoid mandatory reporting, according to the indictment. Federal investigators said the deposits amounted to tax evasion.
Dianna’s Deli in Perkins Township was still taking orders at 7 p.m. Monday.
It’s unclear if all five family members have been arrested and, if so, where they’re being held. U.S. Attorney spokesman Mike Tobin did not return multiple voicemails left Monday at his office.