Tearful family and friends of Baltimore businessman Jimmy Stavrakis packed the federal courtroom, wanting to tell the sentencing judge how he embodied philotimo, a sacred Greek word for leading an exemplary life.
There was the time he got a bullied boy into private school; how he wrote checks for improvements to his church and covered funeral costs for down-on-their-luck community members; and paid for an employee to attend substance abuse treatment.
This, they said, showed the 54-year-old was not the same man who federal prosecutors allege — and who a jury agreed — had his own business torched to collect $15 million in insurance money.
“He has spent a lifetime building a capital reserve of good deeds and goodwill,” said John Minadakis, owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood. “I hope the court allows him to draw on that capital.”
In the end, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Hollander credited him for those good works, sentencing Stavrakis to the mandatory minimum of 15 years in federal prison. Prosecutors had asked for 22 years.
Though Hollander said “the jury got it right,” she noted that "he’s done much that was good, without seeking acclaim. This feels extremely aberrational.”
Stavrakis, who will owe a combination of forfeiture and restitution on the insurance company’s $15 million loss, continues to maintain his innocence, and his attorneys say the government wrongly pegged the crime on him using a circumstantial case. After the sentence was handed down, defense attorney Steve Levin vowed to continue to fight his conviction.
“There’s a reason people are exonerated every week. … There’s a reason we have the phrase wrongful convictions,” Levin said. “This will not stand.”
The fire broke out in 2015 at Stavrakis’s Southeast Baltimore manufacturing business, Adcor Industries Inc. Investigators recovered security footage showing that the night before, Stavrakis put tape over a security latch on the front door. Whoever set the fire — which remains unknown — punched in a code to disable the security system.
Jurors heard that Adcor had suffered a downturn due to the loss of a lucrative contract, defaulting on loans and running up losses that were on pace to reach $2.9 million.
But after the fire, Stavrakis received $15 million from his insurance company, half of which was used to purchase new equipment and to restore the building. Other money went to personal expenses, including $600,000 to an account in his wife’s name, as well as a $98,000 Mercedes-Benz, a $53,000 BMW and $35,000 in watches and jewelry.
Defense attorneys say Adcor’s financial prospects were looking up. One of the cars was given to an employee who had not received a bonus in years, they said.
A parade of supporters urged Hollander to look at the good Stavrakis had done. When his four children walked up to the lectern together, their arms wrapped around each other, people cried so violently that a courthouse bench shook.
Aris Melissaratos, the businessman and former secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said he had known Stavrakis’ family most of his life. “Let this man contribute to the world to the fullest,” he told Hollander.
A former Marine who Stavrakis mentored said he spent more than a decade in combat zones around the world and could spot bad qualities in people. “Not one time did I ever see evil or bad or anything unethical from Jimmy," he said.
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Another supporter said prosecutors were “assassinating my friend.” “It’s only in movies that the innocent man goes free,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Judson T. Mihok took issue with the remarks.
The case was “not about adjudication of being bad or evil; the prosecutors are not assassins," Mihok said. Stavrakis made a “series of bad decisions to develop a plan to light his business on fire and realize proceeds from that fire.”
Prosecutors sought to convince Hollander that Stavrakis also had been behind a 2007 fire, the cause which remains undetermined, for which he collected $10 million.
Mihok said Stavrakis saw insurance as an “ATM” and a way out of financial troubles.
Hollander said she was not persuaded that Stavrakis could be tied to the 2007 fire, but she said she believed that experience “planted the seeds” for the second fire.
“Desperate times lead people to desperate measures,” she said.