NEW YORK – Dimitrios Tsirkos, founder of New York Ice Cream, has been in the news following “Operation Meltdown” which found that the company owed unpaid fines and parking tickets to New York City over eight years and totaling over $4.5 million for 76 ice cream trucks, 46 of which were seized, according to many media reports.
From 2009-2017, the owner/operators of these 76 trucks, reportedly “hid” the debts by transferring vehicles from one short-lived “umbrella” company to another, in order to continue operating with new license plates and apparently different ownership compared to the ones with unpaid fines.
Tsirkos spoke to The National Herald about the scandal and explains that his own involvement was much less than what is being presented in the media. He also told TNH about his professional relationship with the operators of the other trucks, as well as his efforts to avoid further consequences in the case.
At the same time, he expresses his anger at certain media outlets which published details about his personal and family life, which he sees as an unwarranted attack on his character and a “hit below the belt.”
“THE REAL DEBT IS UNDER $160,000”
According to Tsirkos, the authorities referred to the operators of 76 "sinner" ice cream vans, which were seized until further administrative action. As reported by the Katerini-native entrepreneur, out of these 76 trucks, he manages the handling and sales for only five. Besides, in his garage another 26 were found with accumulated and "hidden" violations, but even if they carry the "New York Ice Cream" logo, they do not belong to him. As for the remaining 45, they are not even parked in his space.
“The original amount of the debts of my five trucks, for which I am personally responsible and liable, amounted to $47,000 for offenses from 2009 to 2017. Due to surcharges, this amount is just over $159,000. Other trucks appeared associated with my name either because they were parked in my garage or because they had the New York Ice Cream logo and I am a founder,” emphasized Tsirkos to clarify the nature of the cooperation between him and the other operators.
“For the public to understand, I have to make it clear: These trucks, because they contain and maintain dairy products, must by law be parked in specially designated spaces. I have this place and these operators are contracted with me, paying a fee. They also purchase the products from me. So they are my customers, I have no involvement in the drivers’ behavior, nor do I gain from sales. My garage currently houses 121 trucks; 121 were also checked, with 31 of them having violations, of which five are my own. The remaining 45 were not even in my own garage. Someone may appear] to be involved with me] because they used to work with New York Ice Cream, I cannot say for sure. But I have no cooperation with them. I am not accountable to the authorities for any of these additional trucks beyond the five and nor is there any danger or accusations to deal with further consequences for any of the other issues mentioned in the case,” Tsirkos explained.
In any case, it turns out that Dimitrios Tsirkos, even being responsible for only those five trucks, tried to "hide" the fines by transferring the vehicles, with other license plates, to new "clean" companies, and then transferred them to others, when they received tickets. All of this, taking advantage of the relatively flexible legislation of the State of New York.
"I admit that this is an irregularity. I took advantage of the ability to change companies easily, but this is a common business phenomenon here. Undoubtedly, it is not right to leave unpaid tickets and to try to hide them. But two years ago I asked for a settlement, but never received an answer. Suddenly, two years and a few months later, this is what happened,” he said.
Nevertheless, the Greek businessman clarifies that "there is no criminal prosecution," while noting that he "is already in settlement procedures" which will virtually "erase" any suspicion of "serious" fraud, which would threaten him with harsh legal consequences, beyond the financial ones.
“We will settle and pay the debts. There is no criminal case. If they could have brought one, they would have. We are not going to go to jail for this.”
“LIES THAT WERE WRITTEN ABOUT MY PERSONAL LIFE”
American media reports featured Tsirkos as the “ring-leader” of the $4.5 million scandal, and also made references to his personal life which were not very flattering.
In particular, it was said that he was living a “luxury lifestyle” clearly hinting at a causal relation with the essence of the case. Among other things, photos were cited from the traditional Greek wedding of a business partners’ daughter, where he could be seen “making it rain” dollar bills at the reception like many Greek-Americans do.
“They talk about the 'high life' and a 'villa with a swimming pool' where I supposedly live. I'm not saying I'm living pay check to pay check, but I live in an ordinary house, in a neighborhood in Whitestone, on 148th Street. It bothered me that they mention my family and personal life, printing details that do not apply, since I have excellent relationships with both my family and my ex-wife. They also found pictures on Facebook, for example, throwing dollars at the wedding reception for my partner's daughter – a Greek custom at every wedding – and they showed it as a proof of decadence and that...I'm throwing money away! More generally, these days, they are casting me in a bad light for all this, and it made me so angry. I would like, therefore, to set the record straight,” Tsirkos said.
Finally, he regrets what has been seen in the media and makes it clear that he spoke to TNH because “he feels the need to clarify the situation to the Greek community only.”
“Everyone in the Greek community knows me and that I have no pretensions. I deal with the public, with associations, with everything. I am the president of the Pieria Society, while I am a member of the Pan-Macedonian Council. I am particularly interested that the Greek community knows what I have done. This is where I matured, in Astoria where I have my business since 1985 when I came to America. I'm sorry about all this and I felt the need to explain,” Tsirkos concluded.