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'Sacred money' stolen in a sneak attack on the home front

On the back of a brown paper bag, Margueritagrill owner Tommy Piliouras writes the daily specials.

At the bottom, it reads "Lemon-Peppered Grouper $14.95 - All $ donated to our troops overseas!"

It's just one of the many patriotic gestures Piliouras makes at his famously red-white-and-blue restaurant.

In a good month, he collects about $4,000 to buy phone cards that he sends to troops in Iraq.

His patriotic mission took a blow on Sunday, when a thief broke in and stole about $9,000 set aside for the troops from a secret drawer of Piliouras' desk.

"It hurts me, and I cry because I say that money is sacred money," said Piliouras. "I have to replace that money."

It was the second burglary in four days at the Hall River Road restaurant. The owner took the first in stride, but stealing money for the troops unnerved him.

"I didn't say anything at first because I didn't want people to feel sorry for me," he said. "But this time I want people to be angry.

"Maybe if somebody knows that money belonged to the troops, they'll turn (the culprit) in."

Sitting at a table Thursday, Piliouras held two pieces of scrap paper dear to him. Scribbled on them were the names of two soldiers customers passed on. The stolen money was theirs, he said.

Piliouras keeps a list of soldiers and when he gets about $4,000 from grouper sales, he sends their units a care package full of phone cards to call home.

"The guy who took it, by God, by misfortune, he's going to lose both his arms and both his legs," Piliouras said with confidence. "I want this guy to know that money is sacred."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 860-7312.

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