The Battle of Marathon

A family fights over the sale of their restaurant, while the UA Foundation toys with their fate.

They are the local and lesser versions of Agamemnon and Menelaus, squabbling brothers crying out for affirmation in their battle for Marathon, far from their Peloponnesian village. Their prize lay not on the plains of Attica but on East Sixth Street at the Marathon Restaurant of their fallen father.

And extending the litigious tradition established by the father, Georgios Delfakis, sons Alexandre and Panayiotis Delfakis sought to seize victory in the paneled rooms of Superior Court. Panayiotis grabbed the glory, at least at the point when Judge Clark Munger, the male Themis, awarded him his dead father's restaurant for the price of $425,000.

The brothers, together with their sister and mother, long divorced from Georgios, rallied when tragedy struck last June 5--the night that the dark swirled around Georgios' eyes as life left him on the street, a victim of an unprovoked attack by a paranoid drug abuser, and a victim of his own anger (see "Greek Tragedy," September 14, 2000).

That was the night that Michelle Dawn Pierson flung a rock at Georgios as he drove home on North Euclid Avenue south of Speedway Boulevard. The rock crashed against the windshield of his van. Georgios burst out and gave chase. But despite the fit appearance of his 58-year-old body, his heart could barely pump blood through his severely clogged arteries; he collapsed and died soon after police snared Pierson. And just like Odysseus' mates who were thwarted in their effort to sail home to Ithaka, Georgios would not get to live out his retirement at his home in the tiny Greek village of Dara.

The family arranged for a brief prayer service in Tucson. With the help of a cousin, they shipped their father back to Dara, to his mother and sisters for a funeral and burial. There, the family remained for the "saranta," a 40-day mourning period that ends with a memorial service. But Panayiotis and his mother were in court on August 28, when Judge Richard S. Fields sentenced Pierson to one and a half years in the Arizona state prison.

The Delfakis family would next turn to another court venue, that of probate. Georgios, bitterly estranged from his family for long stretches, left no will to allocate the Marathon, which he opened south of the University of Arizona in 1974, or his savings in Tucson and in Greece.

Eight days after his father died, Alexandre, then 32, was named the "personal representative" of his father's estate. This, according to court papers, had the blessing of sister Catherine and brother Panayiotis, who besides his Greek name uses the names Peter and, for legal documents, Pierre. His mother is a French Canadian.

But by mid-October, Panayiotis, 35, filed papers in Superior Court challenging his brother's right to be the personal representative.

At the heart of the matter was, and is, the restaurant, dark since their father's death. Alexandre, through the estate's lawyer, William Wissler, was moving to sell the Marathon to its longtime suitor, the UA. Panayiotis howled that the UA's price, at $365,000, was far less than the $500,000 to $600,000 that his father had said the UA offered him. But there was a difference now. The business was closed. If the UA was not going to pay what his father said was offered, then Panayiotis would work to reopen Marathon. His mother, who long ago sold her share, also wanted to reopen the restaurant.

Working through the normally secretive UA Foundation, the UA targeted Marathon as its second acquisition on the south side of the 1100 block of East Sixth Street. With the north side already sacked by the UA, the street's south side recently lost a Circle K to the UA, which now rents the building to the operators of El Cubanito restaurant. Sunrise Silk Screen, El Sabor Mexican restaurant, the Rhino Pub, Fair Wheel Bikes and the Coin-Op Laundry make up the block's remaining commercial rampart.

In the month preceding his petition to remove his brother as the estate's personal representative, Panayiotis Delfakis got word from Wissler that an appraisal done for the UA put the value of the property, which includes a small parking lot, at $290,000, according to court records. Fixtures and equipment were valued at $33,600 for a total value of $323,600.

Wissler sent letters to John Coleman, who had the Marathon listing for Realty Executives, and to Panayiotis and Catherine on September 21 explaining Alexandre's plans and the appraisal done for the UA Foundation by the longstanding property appraisal firm of Baker Peterson Baker.

"Bear in mind," Wissler wrote to Alexandre's brother and sister, "that the appraisal from Baker Peterson is that of an appraiser that valued the property for university purposes. It may be worth more from a standpoint of some outside the university. Alex has advised me that he will be seeking another appraisal to determine the fairness of the appraisal by Baker Peterson."

Real estate and appraisal experts say closure of the restaurant diminished the value. But they add that the family should have insisted that the business, open for 26 years, should have been in the equation and that receipts for the last three years be included in the valuation.

Panayiotis, with the help of three lawyers, moved to block the sale of Marathon to the UA for $365,000. Besides separate briefs by lawyers Kim Miller and Susan Schauf, Panayiotis filed a couple of handwritten motions by himself. One listed seven reasons for his brother's removal as the estate's personal representative. Included in that list:

· that Alexandre "has shut down a 26 years existing restaurant business when he had a cook willing to take over in the kitchen";

· that Alexandre "has left the country and did not provide funds to pay the bills on the property";

· that Alexandre "refused to cooperate with family in decision making and actions to be taken regarding the property";

· and that Alexandre "cancelled insurance on the property (and) has ordered his wife to change the locks on the property."

The same note filed in Superior Court faulted Wissler, saying he "failed to protect the assets of the estate by canceling liability coverage on the property and being partial towards Alex Delfakis' personal wishes, which are against the well being of the estate and the heirs."

ALEXANDRE HAD MOVED with his non-Greek wife and three daughters to his father's home in Dara, an isolated and xenophobic village in the north-central portion of the Peloponnesus. It is this region, Arkadia, that the Roman poet Virgil described as having pastoral beauty for its simplicity of life. Arkadians joined the Greeks at the 10-year battle at Troy but, Homer tells us, had to borrow ships from Agamemnon.

Before he set out for Dara, Alexandre told a Weekly reporter that he was seeking a simplified life. He said he cared little about money and that he had scant worry about what he would do in Greece, where he and his brother and sister had lived as youngsters before going to school in Tucson. He said he may manufacture and sell window screens that he thought were needed there.

But he soon returned to Tucson and to his career as a waiter at Evangelo's Restaurant in Gates Pass. And in December, court records show, he signed the offer from the UA Foundation, which put $10,000 in escrow and would close immediately after confirmation by Superior Court Judge Clark Munger.

Panayiotis and his lawyers then moved to block the sale. They complained that the second appraisal was never ordered, and Panayiotis and his mother tossed their names in as potential buyers. Wissler, the lawyer for the estate, responded that they could bid for the property. But he pointed out that the commission was 2.5 percent if the UA Foundation purchased Marathon, but 5.5 percent if there were another buyer. A competing price, Wissler noted, would have to accommodate that higher commission.

With hearings to confirm the UA Foundation's offer set for January, Panayiotis sent another urgent message to the court to reschedule. "The heir," he wrote, "Pierre Delfakis respectfully requests a continuance of the hearing on January 10 to be set after the 22nd of January when he will have returned from his service with the U.S. Naval Reserve. He leaves on January 4, 2001. Thank you for your considerance."

On January 24, Munger ordered a second public notice of Marathon's sale, over the objection of Susan Schauf, the lawyer then representing Panayiotis. Schauf also declared that her client would seek to buy Marathon.

Munger was in no mood for further delay when the Delfakis clan made its way to the court on February 7.

Panayiotis appeared with a new and third lawyer, Robert St. Clair, who surprised and disappointed Alexandre and Wissler when he sought a delay for a new appraisal. Participating by phone from her home in Canada, Catherine Delfakis also asked for a delay.

"I'd like to see a comparison," said Catherine Delfakis, who complained the UA wanted her father's restaurant "for nothing."

Munger said the time for more appraisals, discussions and negotiations with other buyers, which he classified as "speculation," had long since passed.

"Frankly, as they say, talk is cheap," said Munger, whose lawyer brother, John, served on the state university system's Board of Regents until 1999.

Shifting gears, St. Clair then proclaimed that he had a "signed offer" from Panayiotis for $400,000. He would use his share of the estate for the payments and St. Clair assured Munger that his client had a lender--the commitment letter had been faxed that morning.

Sitting in a gallery seat, Chuck Pettis, a longtime real estate pro who serves as the real estate consultant to the UA Foundation, amended his offer to $405,000 and the bidding war for Marathon began.

Panayiotis had his lawyer respond with an offer of $410,000. Wissler then questioned if the financing and commitment were solid. Pettis upped the UA Foundation's offer to $415,000. St. Clair asked for a recess so Panayiotis, then looking alternately at his lawyer and his mother, could call the unnamed lender. Deliberations were not so intense that Panayiotis could not walk by a reporter and call him a "malaka," a dirty Greek epithet meaning "jackoff."

When he returned, he boosted the offer to $425,000 even though, in response to Munger's questions, he had not reached the lender. Pettis kept silent, prodded no longer by the brothers Delfakis to raise the price further. Meanwhile, Wissler complained that the new offer still lacked equal earnest money and closing. Panayiotis' bid included $5,000 in escrow and closing in 90 days as opposed to the UA's $10,000 in escrow and immediate closing. Only the escrow amount was made equal. The money was to be deposited within three days.

The winning bid of $425,000 was 31 percent more than the appraised price and 16 percent more than the UA's initial offer. The property is valued for tax purposes at $133,000, according to the Pima County Assessor's Office.

Also remaining are past-due taxes of $2,768 and a total current tax bill of $5,722, according to records in the County Treasurer's Office.

In what will be one of his last few acts if his brother gets his way at a March 8 trial on his status as the estate's representative, Alexandre handed over his father's 1999 Toyota 4-Runner to his sister.

MEANWHILE, WELL AWAY from the Superior Courts in Tucson, Michelle Dawn Pierson, the 34-year-old drug abuser with a history of violent outbursts who hurled the rock at the Delfakis father on June 5, worked her 25-cents-a-day job among the 1,500 women who are locked up at the Perryville state prison. Pierson is in a medium-security unit and could be granted more privileges with a change to minimum security "depending upon how she behaves," said Camilla Strongin, a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

Judge Richard Fields ordered Pierson to pay $10,003 in restitution--primarily for the cost for Delfakis' burial in Greece. A third of her earnings from her prison job--$30 a year if she works seven days a week--is to go toward restitution.

Initially charged with second-degree murder, Pierson wrote in a letter to Fields before her sentencing that she was "very thankful the charges were dropped to endangerment." She said she "relapsed on methamphetamine after nine months clean and sober ... and was not in my right mind" when she threw the rock at Georgios Delfakis. Pierson says she applied for a grant to take classes at Pima Community College and that she wants to help others with addictions as well as to "be there for my daughters."

She is scheduled to be freed in December.

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