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updated: 3/22/2013 2:33 PM

Buffalo Grove man now faces murder-for-hire charges

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  • Steven Mandell, formerly known as Steven Manning, is an ex-Chicago police officer who was once sentenced to death and later had the ruling overturned. He is in jail on murder-for-hire and extortion charges.

      Steven Mandell, formerly known as Steven Manning, is an ex-Chicago police officer who was once sentenced to death and later had the ruling overturned. He is in jail on murder-for-hire and extortion charges.
    Courtesy Illinois Department of Corrections

 
 

A former Chicago police officer -- who once served time on Illinois' death row -- is now facing murder-for-hire charges following his latest arrest by the FBI in October.

Steven Mandell, 61, of Buffalo Grove, was indicted on the new charges Thursday, according to federal prosecutors.

In October, months of surveillance by federal agents culminated in the arrest of Mandell and an accomplice who authorities said were planning to kidnap, extort and eventually murder an unidentified landlord who Mandell believed made more than $100,000 a month in cash from various rental properties throughout the area.

Initially, Mandell was charged with attempted extortion and extortion conspiracy, according to court records. The new charges include conspiracy to commit kidnapping, illegal gun possession, possession of a firearm by a felon, obstruction and murder-for-hire.

Prosecutors also say a second victim was targeted in the murder-for-hire charges.

The obstruction charge stems from calls Mandell made to his wife from the Metropolitan Correctional Center following his Oct. 25, 2012, arrest where he asked her and another person to "pick up" a car that he had left parked near the landlord's home. The calls were recorded and prosecutors said Mandell's wife told him she would "clean it out" and Mandell responded, "Yeah ... Throw away a lot of stuff."

No others have been charged in connection with the new allegations against Mandell, according to officials at the federal prosecutor's office.

The new charges are just the latest twist in a long legal saga for Mandell, who was born Steven Manning, but changed his name following his release from death row in 1998.

Mandell has a lengthy and sordid criminal history. He was convicted of insurance fraud in 1983, forcing his resignation from the Chicago Police Department. He was convicted again in 1987 of burglary.

He was also a suspect in the 1986 murder of Thomas McKalip, whose body was found in Buffalo Grove. Authorities said at the time they believed McKalip's death was in retaliation for the gangland-style murder of Mandell's 73-year-old father Boris Manning.

Mandell was arrested in 1990 for the murder of James Pellegrino, a former business associate, according to court records and newspaper accounts from the time.

He was sentenced to death in the Pellegrino case and spent five years on death row. But that ruling was later overturned because the state Supreme Court found the trial judge allowed prejudicial evidence at trial.

Concurrent to his legal troubles in Illinois, Mandell was also facing kidnapping charges in Missouri stemming from the robbery of drug dealers in the Kansas City area. He was sentenced to life in prison in Missouri in 1992 and, once released from death row in Illinois, he was transported to Missouri to serve that sentence. However, once again, Mandell's attorneys were able to get that conviction overturned on appeal. Mandell was freed in 2004.

Also charged and convicted in the Missouri kidnapping case was Gary Engel, a former Willow Springs police officer and the former brother-in-law of James Pellegrino. Engel was sentenced to 90 years in prison for his part in the Missouri crime. His conviction was also overturned and in 2010 he was released from prison in Missouri.

Engel was arrested with Mandell in October. The 61-year-old Engel was transported to the McHenry County jail in Woodstock following his most recent arrest where authorities said he committed suicide by hanging himself from a bedsheet in his cell.

When the two were arrested a few months ago, prosecutors said they planned on posing as police officers and had fake arrest warrants printed out.

Court papers said the two men planned to take the landlord to a business on the city's northwest side that had been fitted with a massive sink, a large countertop "capable of supporting several hundred pounds" and a shower.

It was at this site that prosecutors say the two men planned to force the landlord to pay them $500,000 and sign over ownership of 25 commercial properties under the guise that he would be released if he complied. However, prosecutors said the two men planned to kill the landlord and dismember his body even after their demands were met. Investigators recovered a butcher's knife, saws, goggles, handcuffs, zip-tie restraints and other items when they arrested Mandell and Engel, as well as a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun and 94 rounds of ammunition, according to court records.

In Thursday's court filing, prosecutors also contend Mandell "discussed the murder of an heir" of the landlord who was in a position to make a claim to the real estate after the landlord's death.

Mandell has pleaded not guilty to the previous charges and is being held without bond.

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