The president of Chicago’s biggest movie studio — who’s the star witness in the extortion case against longtime Chicago Teamsters union boss John Coli Sr. — has been on a shopping spree since he began working with the feds, records show.
Cinespace Chicago Film Studio president Alexander S. “Alex” Pissios and his partners have spent $3.8 million to buy nine properties on the West Side and Southwest Side since he began cooperating with investigators more than two years ago, secretly recording conversations with the once-powerful union boss who’s now charged with extorting more than $325,000 from the studio.
Lawndale Real Estate — owned by Pissios, his brothers and Cinespace’s top financial officer — has bought apartment buildings, vacant lots and a steel plant in hopes of expanding the filmmaking operation centered in a former Ryerson Steel factory the studio bought with the help of $17 million in state grants from former Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration.
The land deals include a vacant lot that Pissios and his partners bought last year from City Hall, and another property that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration helped them acquire from a Latino theater company that failed to develop the land it obtained from the city under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Pissios agreed to cooperate with the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago after they threatened to charge him with bankruptcy fraud for failing to disclose a $100,000 bank account he used to support his family and pay gambling debts while he helped his uncle Nick Mirkopoulos expand Cinespace from Toronto to Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last month.
Pissios and his partners didn’t respond to questions regarding their plans for the properties they’ve purchased. A lawyer for Pissios wouldn’t comment.
Lawndale’s most recent deal closed at the end of May, when it paid $2.8 million for Crown Steel Sales at 3355 W. 31st St. Pissios plans to convert the property into a satellite studio less than three miles from Cinespace, 2621 W. 15th Pl., according to Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd).
“They’re going to put some studio stages there,” Munoz says. “It’s at least a year or two away. They’ll need zoning, permitting. I’ve already been helping them out. The last couple rains, it’s been flooding over there. I had the sewers cleaned.”
Crown Steel has been owned by the family of the late Russell Reineman, but his daughter Lynne McCutcheon says she plans to retire and decided to sell because no other family members wanted to keep the plant running. The IRS put a lien on the property three years ago for $866,040 in back taxes.
In February 2017, Pissos and his partners paid City Hall $18,000 for a parking lot at 1319 S. Western, just south of a former tire store they’d bought for $550,000 at the end of 2014. The former tire store is now home to a marijuana dispensary owned by Perry Mandera, a trucking company owner who also owns a topless bar on the North Side called VIP’s Gentlemen Club. Mandera will pay Pissios $2.2 million to lease the store under a 10-year lease, according to records filed with Cook County.
City Hall helped Pissios and his partners acquire a lot in the 2600 block of West Ogden in the fall of 2016 from the Latino Chicago Theater, which got a deal from the Daley administration to buy the property for $1. Plans to build an arts center fell through, and the city pushed the theater company to sell the property to Pissios, according to Jorge Ramirez, treasurer of the theater group now known as the Panamerican Performance Works.
Since the theater didn’t end up developing the property, the Emanuel administration said it had to pay City Hall $34,200 for the land, according to city records. Pissios and his partners paid the theater company $34,500 to buy the property in October 2016, county records show.
“It happened relatively quickly,” Ramirez says. “It did go directly from us to Cinespace, but it happened under the watchful eye of the city.”
The other deals Pissios and his partners made after he began meeting with federal agents during the spring of 2016:
- $36,000 in April 2016 for a vacant lot at 1323 S. Western.
- $200,000 in May 2016 for a small apartment building at 2613 W. Ogden.
- $56,000 in June 2016 for two vacant lots at 1329 S. Western and 1331 S. Western.
- $450,000 in October 2017 for a small apartment building at 2624 W. Ogden, near the property they bought from the theater group.
- $190,000 in December 2017 for a small apartment building at 1440 S. Rockwell, just north of Cinespace.
- $30,000 in May 2018 for a one-story home at 1307 S. Talman.