City's buyouts on west side include felons

One landlord is wanted by FBI

one convicted of manslaughter

$570,000 for 2 buildings

Pizza restaurant, club to be replaced by apartments, shops

June 04, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

As part of Baltimore's project to rebuild the west side of downtown, the city will pay more than $570,000 to buy properties owned by a pair of felons whose stories are worthy of dime-store detective novels.

One's called "Crazy John." He's a convicted black-market tuna dealer wanted by Interpol as an international fugitive. And if he tries to show up to sign the sales contract, he'll be arrested by the FBI.

The other, "Kenny Bird," is a strip club owner who has been convicted of manslaughter and firearms charges.

Ioannis "Crazy John" Kafouros and Kenneth "Kenny Bird" Jackson are two of the 61 landlords Baltimore must deal with - and pay - as it tries to purchase 110 buildings to rebuild a 12-block area east of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in The Sun on June 4, as well as a follow-up article on June 6 and a column on June 8, incorrectly referred to Kenneth A. Jackson as the owner of the El Dorado Lounge at 322 W. Baltimore St. State records list Jackson as director of KAJ Inc., which owns 322 W. Baltimore St. Jackson identified himself as the manager of the El Dorado in documents submitted to the city liquor board. However, Jackson's lawyer says he is not an owner of either the El Dorado Lounge or of KAJ Inc.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The $350 million project is Baltimore's biggest economic revitalization effort since the Inner Harbor 20 years ago. Developers are planning more than 800 apartments, dozens of restaurants and a Broadway-style theater. But the road to what some hope will be downtown's second renaissance winds through complex negotiations involving a pair of colorful landlords.

For the buildings that hold Jackson's El Dorado strip club and Kafouros' Crazy John's pizza, city appraisals estimate the city will spend at least $570,000, although talks over the prices are continuing.

This is part of the $30 million city officials plan to spend buying properties, moving shopkeepers out and demolishing buildings to make room for national chains such as The Gap and Old Navy.

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, director of the Baltimore Development Corp., said the city must fairly compensate all owners when the city condemns their properties through the legal process of eminent domain.

"It's not for us to judge what people have done in the past," Brodie said. "If someone is owed compensation as part of the condemnation process, they are owed compensation."

Perhaps the most convoluted trail leads to 304 W. Baltimore St., home of Crazy John's pizza and video arcade.

The city needs to buy 20 buildings on this block so the Bank of America Community Development Corp. can build an apartment and shopping complex as part of the west side project.

Crazy John's is a late-night rallying point for hundreds of young people who stop in after nightclubs close to scarf slices of pizza on paper plates and blast video aliens.

The owner of the building is Kafouros, a 43-year-old former nightclub owner convicted of income tax evasion in 1992.

He fled the country in 1998 after the U.S. attorney's office convicted him of transporting stolen goods, including tuna, beer, cigarettes and jewelry.

The city has appraised his building at $271,000, according to city records. But he's not likely to see the money.

"If he does come back into this country, he will be arrested," said Peter A. Gulotta Jr., special agent in the FBI office in Baltimore. "We are fairly certain he is in Greece. But if somebody knows where he is, we'd like to talk to him or her."

There is a long line of people who claim they should get the city's redevelopment money instead of Kafouros.

The U.S. marshal's office won a court order in 1998 authorizing it to sell the property and use the money as a penalty against Kafouros for jumping bail. The IRS has $800,000 in liens on the property.

Also after the money are the parents of college students Donte Young, 22, and Lori McDaniel, 19, who were shot to death Oct. 24, 1996, outside a nightclub owned by Kafouros called Volcano's on Greenmount Avenue.

The gunman, Kevin Lamont Richardson, convicted of murder in 1997 and of possessing crack cocaine in 1992, opened fire on a crowd outside the club in an attempt to kill an enemy, according to prosecutors.

The parents of the victims won a $1.1 million judgment against Kafouros in March after their attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, argued that Kafouros was partly responsible because Volcano's was an unlicensed and dangerous dance hall where 16 people were shot between 1994 and 1997.

"It's only fair that we should get the money," said Bonita Johnson, mother of Donte Young. "I was awarded $579,000, and I haven't seen one cent of that yet."

Also on the waiting list: Kafouros' estranged wife. Diana Kafouros petitioned the court last year for some of the money to help support their two children, ages 4 and 12.

"It's a sad situation her estranged husband has placed her in," Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Eisenberg told the court. "Her children tug at the heart strings."

None of these families will get the money, Eisenberg said.

Under a court order, the U.S. marshal's office has hired a real estate company to sell the building to the city. The proceeds will go to the courts, Eisenberg said.

A few doors down is the El Dorado Club at 322 W. Baltimore St., which is owned by a company, K.A.J. Inc., of which Jackson is the director, according to state tax records.

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