Former Concordia baseball coach: Stop stalling and give me retrial

By Bill Dwyner For Chronicle Media

Spiro Lempesis (Photo by Bill Dwyer)

On New Year’s Eve 2019, an Illinois Appellate court reversed former Concordia baseball coach Spiro Lempesis’ convictions for criminal sexual abuse and ordered a new trial.  

The appellate justices found that trial judge Gregory Ginex’s limitation on Lempesis’ subpoena for evidence, prejudiced defendant because defendant’s subpoena sought relevant and material information that could have aided in his defense.”  

The justices also found that Ginex had failed to conduct an “in camera,” or private examination of material “to determine if it was discoverable as evidence.”  

After waiting another 11 months to be released from prison, Lempesis, now 58, began what he says has become an interminable ordeal of waiting. And waiting some more. 

Lempesis has acknowledged repeatedly that his behavior with Concordia baseball player Anthony Collaro was wrong, calling it “… immoral (and) unethical, but not illegal. At no point did I do anything illegal or deserve to be tried and put in jail.” He says he feels like he’s still incarcerated.  

“I’m out of prison, but I’m still not free,” he said over lunch several weeks before his latest court hearing on May 7. He has a new judge overseeing his case, a new prosecutor, and a new defense attorney. The only thing that remains the same, he said, is the lack of a decision on when and if the state will retry him.  

The state’s attorney’s office did not respond to an email last week requesting comment, however, the office replied to a December 2020 email request for comment on another Lempesis story by stating, “We are unable to comment on pending litigation.” 

It’s even unclear whether, 3½ years after his release, the evidentiary discovery process has concluded. “From what I understand there’s still things that need to be shared,” Lempesis said. 

Lempesis said he’s out of patience with a legal system he says is both broken and unfair, and is ready to call out the state’s attorney’s office for what he says is its intentional slow-walking of his retrial process. 

After an hour drive to Maywood on May 7, neither Lempesis’ new attorney nor Assistant States’ Attorney Marilyn Salas were present physically or via Zoom. That required him to sit through nearly two hours of Judge John Wilson’s court proceedings. Sitting in the gallery watching the court proceedings drone on, Lempesis started drumming his fingers on his leg and fidgeting.  

“This is just draining,” he muttered.  

Finally, his name was called as his former lawyer, Stefan Fenner came on via Zoom. While he had filed a brief to be dismissed from the case, Fenner’s replacement had still not made a formal appearance. He informed the court that he understood that Salas was tied up with a trial at the 26th and California Criminal Courthouse. 

Lempesis was found guilty by Ginex on three of the four criminal sexual abuse charges in December 2017, following a bench trial, and sentenced to 10½ years in prison.  

Ginex’s verdict hinged on his finding Collaro’s uncorroborated — but also unrebutted — testimony credible. The judge said the alleged molestation Collaro testified he experienced as a minor was just the precursor to the documented sexual behavior Lempesis purportedly coerced him into as an adult while at Concordia.  

No witness was called to corroborate Collaro’s testimony regarding his allegedly recovered memories, and under questioning, he was unable to name any therapist who treated him. Two witnesses testified that Collaro had told them that Lempesis did not molest him as a minor.  

Lempesis has repeatedly argued for years that Ginex was wrong on several alleged facts he cited as grounds for finding Collaro credible, in particular that Collaro was emotionally vulnerable because Lempesis was the “sole male role model” in his life. 

“I was not the sole role model in Collaro’s life,” said Lempesis, who noted that Collaro was a star high school athlete with numerous older men in his life, including his biological father and a stepfather, a Melrose Park police officer. As a three-sport athlete and star baseball player who led his team to the state semifinals, Lempesis said, Collaro had numerous male coaches. 

Ginex also opined that Collaro was the only person Lempesis approached about participating in videotaped sexual activity, something refuted by available evidence. Ginex personally viewed the video, which, Lempesis said, clearly shows that for the first three hours a second adult male is involved with Lempesis before Collaro appears. In addition, the other man is heard talking with Lempesis about a third individual who expresses interest in participating in videotaping sex acts. 

The existence of a fourth individual Lempesis said he approached, a Concordia teammate of Collaro’s, is documented in a Sept. 24, 2010 memo written by Concordia official Jeff Hynes that the Chronicle has seen. 

“I asked (the player) if in fact it was true that (Spiro Lempesis) offered to pay him money to perform sexual acts on film for money, and his response was ‘yes,’” Hynes wrote.  

Lempesis is most bitter about what he believes was central to Ginex finding Collaro credible. Former Cook County ASA Lauretta Froelich, he alleges, improperly suggested in a motion to Ginex that there might be a minor on the videotape. 

“She’d seen the tape herself, so she knows there’s no minors on the tape,” he said. “She did it just to poison the trier of fact. Willingly, knowingly.” 

“Everyone knows there were no minors on that tape. The FBI had that tape. If there were any minors on that tape, I’d have been arrested, charged, prosecuted, long before 2017.”  

Ginex ruled the video inadmissible, but he mentioned it at sentencing. 

Lempesis believes the core issue for the prosecutorial and judicial animus he alleges he endured was homophobia.  

“Without a doubt, this whole thing has been escalated because it was a man-on-man situation,” he said. “Without a doubt.”  

After Judge Wilson set his next court date for May 28, Lempesis attempted to address him, but was rebuked due to neither his attorney nor Salas being present. He thanked the judge, turned and left the courtroom.  

In the hallway, he gave a little shrug and a quick, resigned laugh. He admits he’s a bit uneasy about “poking the bear” and criticizing prosecutors, but he’s also fed up. He said he intends to attack Collaro’s testimony under oath aggressively in any retrial, using both facts from a private investigative report prepared for Concordia on his conduct there, and a heavily redacted psyche report done on Collaro, which he will demand be unredacted. 

Lempesis said he’s been told that the state’s attorney’s office “doesn’t want to deal with it.” He said he believes that prosecutors “know they got lucky the first time, because they knew who Ginex was …”, and that was, he said, someone who “was blinded by the evidence.”  

“Salas is in no hurry to get this to court,” he said. “She’s really busy, she’s bogged down. She’s (stationed) at 26th and Cal but she has to travel to Maybrook to deal with this.” 

“I think if they really felt that I was guilty and I should be behind bars, they would have already moved forward with this,” he said.