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Article updated: 11/5/2012 6:58 PM

Former cop charged with extortion found dead in McHenry County jail

By Jake Griffin

The U.S. Marshal's office is investigating the death of a federal inmate being held at the McHenry County jail in Woodstock.

Gary Engel, 61, of Homer Glen, was one of two former police officers arrested by the FBI Oct. 25 on charges of attempting to extort a local landlord and then later kill him after their demands had been met. Engel was a Willow Springs police officer in the 1970s who was booted from the force when he pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon, according to federal court papers.

McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said Engel was alone in his cell at the time of his death and "there was no indication he was suicidal," so he was not under any special watch. Zinke did not say when jail officials last saw Engel alive.

Zinke said Engel was one of the 50 to 60 federal inmates the jail houses on the U.S. Marshal's behalf each day.

Belkis Cantor, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshal's bureau in Chicago, would only confirm that Engel was found dead in his cell shortly after midnight Monday.

McHenry County Coroner Marlene Lantz said an autopsy had been performed Monday morning, but "everything is still pending," including cause of death.

Cantor said the U.S. Marshal Service uses a number of suburban county jails to house prisoners because the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago "can only hold so many."

Federal investigators had been watching Engel and 61-year-old Steven Mandell of Buffalo Grove for nearly a month before their arrest almost two weeks ago. According to court records, FBI agents have video of the two plotting the extortion of a local landlord who they planned to demand money and real estate holdings from and then kill.

This wasn't the first time the pair had found themselves in legal trouble together. Engel received a 90-year prison sentence for kidnapping in Missouri in the early 1990s, while Mandell -- then known as Steven Manning -- received a life sentence.

Mandell, a former Chicago police officer, was released in 2004 when a Missouri judge found evidence used at trial should have been inadmissible. Engel challenged his arrest and conviction on some of the same grounds, won his release in 2010 and was suing the federal government.

Before that, Mandell had been convicted in 1993 in Illinois of killing a mob associate and sentenced to death, but his case was overturned because a judge had allowed evidence that should have been excluded. Engel's ex-wife was the sister of the man Mandell was accused of killing in Illinois.

Mandell was also a suspect in a 1986 murder in Buffalo Grove that remains unsolved.

Both men were to be arraigned Tuesday. It's unclear if Mandell's arraignment will go forward or be delayed.

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