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Two charged with faking will

For generations, John Apocotos was a fixture in the Greek community of Tarpon Springs.

He operated a fruit stand on Alt. U.S. 19. He ran the parking lot in front of Pappas' restaurant until he died at age 86. With the slightest of prodding, he would happily expound on the economy, the stock market or foreign policy.

Five days after he died in 1991, his will showed up. It left his entire estate to Andreas Zoanas, who at the time owned a nearby restaurant on the sponge docks. By many accounts, Zoanas had befriended the old man and let him eat for free at the restaurant.

Now authorities believe the will was faked, and they may exhume Apocotos' body for signs of foul play.

Arrest documents filed Thursday in Pasco County allege a broad conspiracy involving Zoanas, several other members of the Greek community and a young woman who now says she notarized the bogus will because her husband threatened to kill her and their baby.

Arrested were

Georgios "George" D. Likomitros, 38, of 5 Baywood Court in Palm Harbor. A native of Greece, Likomitros was charged by Pasco sheriff's detectives with one count each of conspiracy to commit grand theft and grand theft. After a hearing before Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray Jr., Likomitros was ordered held in jail in lieu of $150,000 bail.

George E. Prasinos, 31, of 66 W Lime St. in Tarpon Springs. He also was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit grand theft. A lawyer involved in a related civil case said Prasinos acted as a witness to what detectives say was a false will. Bray ordered Prasinos held in the Pasco County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

Thursday afternoon, Pasco detectives said they still were seeking four people for arrest on similar charges in what was described as a scheme to defraud Apocotos' rightful heirs. Sheriff's Office spokesman Jon Powers refused to name the other people being sought, and by Thursday evening no other arrests had been made.

But arrest documents filed in the Prasinos and Likomitros cases say detectives believe these people may have played a role in the conspiracy. In sworn depositions given as part of a related civil suit in Pinellas County, all four also are named as participants in the will transactions.

They are:

Andreas Antonis "Andy" Zoanas, 33, a native of Greece and the former owner of Mr. Souvlaki restaurant at 510 Dodecanese Blvd.

Kathleen Ergos, 42, of Tarpon Springs. A hairdresser, she witnessed the will. She is cooperating with investigators, according to one lawyer involved in the civil case.

Panteleimon "Pete" Kavouklis, whose age was not available, of Tarpon Springs.

Christina Likomitros, 24, of Holiday, the ex-wife of George Likomitros.

A lawyer involved in the civil case said Christina Likomitros went to authorities in April, saying she has been living for two years under death threats designed to keep her quiet.

Last month, sheriff's deputies wired her with a body bug and had her discuss the will with Prasinos, who signed as a witness. According to Joseph Fleece III, a St. Petersburg attorney hired to contest the will, that conversation produced "a good tape."

A prosecutor said Thursday that detectives view Apocotos' 1991 death as suspicious. The prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Rob Perry, said further investigation is possible.

"There is a tremendous amount of suspicion about the death," Perry said. He added that exhuming Apocotos' body to check for foul play is "a possibility."

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office investigated the case because the will allegedly was notarized in Holiday, where the Likomitros couple lived in 1991. Holiday is just across the county line from Tarpon Springs.

None of the people accused in the case could be reached for comment Thursday.

But in an interview last month about his voluminous divorce case, George Likomitros suggested that his ex-wife was willing to say or do anything to maintain sole custody of their child.

The arrests come in the midst of a long civil court fight over a will that was purported to have been Apocotos' last bequeathment and in which he gave his entire $350,000 estate to a restaurant owner he had known a relatively short time.

For Fleece, a two-year court battle over John Apocotos' will took an unexpected and delightful turn two months ago.

"It was like Perry Mason," Fleece said. "Someone pops up at the end and says, "I confess, I confess.'

"

An estate specialist, Fleece and Tarpon Springs lawyer Gus Bilirakis were hired by Apocotos' nephew in New Jersey to contest the will.

The estate totals roughly $350,000, Fleece said, and he suspected fraud from the beginning.

"It was a form will that you would buy at the store. It was made two days before the guy died. It left everything to a young fellow .

.

. who, as far as anyone knew, had no real ties to the old man."

A handwriting expert hired by Fleece testified that Apocotos' signature is a phony, but Zoanas produced his own expert who said the signature is genuine.

By his own admission, Fleece had little real ammunition and was headed for defeat in July, when a probate judge was scheduled to rule on the will's validity.

Then in April, Christina Likomitros came forward. She told a startling story of fraud and extortion. Fleece took her deposition, referred her to the authorities and waited for the hearing date with a grin on his face.

"Accidents could be arranged'

A native of New York, Christina Likomitros moved to Florida 13 years ago. In 1989, she married George Likomitros, who published a Greek-language newspaper in Tarpon Springs. In March 1991, a month after their son was born, she acquired a notary's license.

On July 11, 1991, George Likomitros came home with a blank will containing the signatures of "John Apocotos" and witnesses George Prasinos and Kathleen Ergos, Christina Likomitros said in a sworn statement to Fleece.

Likomitros instructed her to notarize the will and write in details that left the entire estate to Andreas Zoanas, she said.

"I didn't want to do it. (But) the more I protested, the angrier he got," she said. "He said do it, or else he would kill me and the baby, because accidents could be arranged. So I did it."

Their 4-month-old baby suffered from apnea and slept with a heart monitor, she said. Her husband threatened her by saying, "It's a shame if the baby would stop breathing," she said.

Two days after the will was signed, John Apocotos apparently died of a heart attack at age 86 in a parking lot near Tarpon Springs' famous sponge docks. He recently had undergone surgery for an unknown ailment and was in weak condition.

Because of Apocotos' advanced age and the presumption that he had suffered a heart attack, no autopsy was performed, and the cause of Apocotos' death was listed as natural. He was buried a few days later in Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs.

A few days later, Christina Likomitros said, she discovered a bag full of cash in her garage. While she rifled through it, her husband came in unexpectedly, threw her against a table, mentioned the will and "told me to mind my own business and keep my mouth shut or else I'd end up like the old man. Dead."

Then, he "got on the phone with somebody and told them that I had found the money, but not to worry, if I told, I would end up like the old man."

A few months later, parties to the will's signing were subpoenaed to give depositions in the contested-will case. Fleece was trying to dredge up inconsistencies in their statements. Just before the depositions, Zoanas and his accountant, Pete Kavouklis, dropped by the Likomitros house to coach Christina on her testimony, she said. Also present were Prasinos and Ergos, listed as witnesses on the will.

A Sheriff's Office affidavit said several men told the woman to testify that they had met Apocotos in a parking lot gate shack near the sponge docks where Apocotos signed the new will.

"I told them I didn't want to lie for them," Christina Likomitros said. "They told George, "Make sure you wife gets the story straight.' And George looked at me and said: "Has the baby had any problems lately?' I told him no, and I told him not to worry about the story."

A month after the deposition, Christina Likomitros filed for divorce, George Likomitros moved out and the threats escalated, she said. Mostly they were telephone calls, she said, and she often recognized her ex-husband's voice.

One night, someone slit her porch screen and stuck a live rat through it, she said. "I opened the door, and the rat ran into the house. I cornered it and smashed it with a baseball bat."

Later, the telephone rang, and the voice on the other end gave her a message, she said: "I hope you have a poison control center near your house. If you talk, rats die."

At one point, she said, she pleaded with Zoanas to settle the contested will so her husband's threats would stop. "Just tell him to leave us alone, I'm not going to talk," she said. Zoanas said he would talk to George, she said.

After a few months, Christina Likomitros used money from her mother to hire Michael Holden, a Pasco County private investigator. She did not tell him about the will because she knew he would have to inform authorities, she said. Instead, she asked him to protect her because George was threatening to kidnap their son because of the couple's bitter custody fight.

Holden was suspicious that she wasn't telling him everything because she was getting threatening phone calls at the house telling her to keep her mouth shut, he said last week.

The last call came in September 1992, she said in her statement: It was George, saying "If you talk, I'm going to rip your tongue out through the slit in your neck."

After that, Holden moved her to a "safe house" in Pasco County and kept one of his associates with her around the clock. They repainted her car, changed the license plates and put new rims on the tires so the car couldn't be easily identified, he said.

Then in April, she had to attend a court hearing on the will. As one of Holden's associates watched, a friend of George Likomitros came into the witness room and talked to Christina in Greek, Holden said.

"She got nervous. We could tell she was scared," Holden said. "Nobody changes just like that. As far as we knew, she was just going to testify that "I signed the will, and it was proper.' Nobody gets worried about that. It was probably a threat."

At that point, Holden said, he told Christina to level with him or he would quit protecting her. "I sat her and her mother down and said, "What's really going on? I can't risk my people or myself not knowing what's going on behind us.'

"

When she told him about the will, Holden said, they went to her attorney, Jeffrey Cosnow, who steered her to deputies and to Fleece.

Last week, prosecutors officially interviewed Christina one last time, and she was told she would be charged, Cosnow said.

In a room next door to Christina was Kathleen Ergos, one of the witnesses to the will signing, who also was being questioned.

"It's my understanding that she was corroborating the fake will story," Cosnow said.

Holder also confirmed that, "another party apparently has come forward" to support Christina's version of events.

Pasco detectives would say only that one of the participants was cooperating in the investigation. They added that others had corroborated the story, but declined to identify them.

_ Times staff writer Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

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