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Army Vet Sues Former Restaurant Business Partners, Claiming They Defrauded Him Out Of Hundreds Of Thousands In Failed West Town Venture

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A lawsuit has been filed against two Chicago restaurant owners, accusing them of defrauding a U.S. Army veteran out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As CBS 2's Lauren Victory reported Wednesday morning, the case is also on the FBI's radar.

Army vet Mike Eggum said he invested $265,000 in a restaurant – his life savings from his 10 trips to the Middle East as an Army paratrooper and private contractor.

Mike Eggum On 2nd Tour
Mike Eggum on his second tour of duty with the Army. (Credit: Mike Eggum)

In 2018, the opening day came for his new venture into Chicago's restaurant world.

The Gringo In West Town
(via Facebook)
The Gringo In West Town
(via Facebook)

"Everyone loves tacos and margaritas and a patio, so it was a cool place," Eggum said.

The Gringo, at 1202 W. Grand Ave., in West Town, served up delectable creations for two and a half years.

The Gringo In West Town
(via Facebook)
The Gringo In West Town
(via Facebook)

Now it sits empty.

"Things just started happening behind the scenes that I didn't know about," Eggum said. "There were bills not being paid, there was rent not being paid."

And there was much more, pre-pandemic. The headline-making restaurant's revenue numbers weren't making sense to its investor.

"I just sat there, figured all of the data points out, and then I brought all of that to the FBI," Eggum said.

Eggum said he found suspicious wire transfers and hundreds of withdrawals labeled Testa Produce, the taco joint's produce provider.

The problem? Expenses like one on March 15, 2019 for more than $21,000, when Testa Produce told CBS 2 the Gringo only spent $7,300 with them that whole month.

"It is possible that we could get additional information from the FBI," said attorney James Oakley of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.

Oakley just filed a civil lawsuit on Eggum's behalf against the military vet's restaurant partners Ryan Kowalis and Steven Tsonis, alleging fraud.

[scribd id=499066460 key=key-grRodkIm5qSCdVAla53v mode=scroll]

"These individual defendants made a bunch of false statements to Mike in order to convince him to invest money," Oakley said.

Eggum said it was happening from the start. He points to his contract showing the Gringo's holding company Kerouac's was acquired on March 5, 2018, but he discovered the ownership transfer certificate is dated two weeks later.

In other words, Eggum said, "When I had put my money in, they hadn't even owned the restaurant."

A civilian's dream was shut down.

"I'm still disappointed," he said. "I'm still angry about it; sad about it."

Demand letters for his money back didn't work, so the battle goes to a judge.

Tsonis told the claims "it's simply not true" and referred CBS 2 to his lawyer. Kowalis's attorney had no comment because he hadn't seen the lawsuit yet.

Eggum started a GoFundMe page to pay for his legal expenses/a>. He said he will donate additional money raised to military organizations that helps veterans fight fraud and/or prevent veterans' suicide.

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