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updated: 2/13/2014 8:26 PM

Witness: Buffalo Grove man's murder plot may have included daughter

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  • Steven Mandell

      Steven Mandell

 
 

The murderous intentions of Steven Mandell, the former Chicago police officer and onetime Illinois death row inmate charged with attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder-for-hire, didn't stop at the businessman whose money and property he coveted, a witness testified Thursday.

Chicago real estate developer and FBI informant George Michael testified that Mandell, of Buffalo Grove, indicated in recorded conversations that the businessman's college-age daughter might also be target.

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Michael previously testified he and Mandell, 63, arranged to kidnap the businessman and force him to sign over his properties -- occupied by a liquor store, body shop and other businesses -- and turn over money, which Michael said came from drug sales. Upon learning the businessman's wife had died several years earlier, Mandell made a crude remark expressing his delight that no spouse would contest the change in ownership of the properties, Michael said. As for the daughter, Mandell drew a hand across his throat to indicate what would happen if she contested the transfer.

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu what Mandell meant, Michael said it meant "he could kill the daughter as well."

Thursday marked the third day on the witness stand for Michael, whose credibility took a beating during cross examination. Over several months, Michael recorded conversations in person and over the phone in which he and Mandell discussed luring their intended victim to Michael's office where Mandell and another man would pose as police and arrest him.

According to transcripts introduced at trial, Mandell and Michael planned to take the man to a building in the 5300 block of West Devon Avenue in Chicago which they dubbed "Club Med" where they would torture him to force him to transfer cash and real estate holdings to Mandell, then murder him and dismember his body.

In a transcript from a video shown to the jury, Mandell talks with Gary Engel, a former Willow Springs police officer who was charged in the case along with Mandell. Engel committed suicide in McHenry County Jail in November 2012 days before his scheduled arraignment on extortion charges. While touring the Devon Avenue space where they intended to torture and kill their victim, Mandell and Engel express anger over the quality of the plumbing and the pace of construction, according to the transcript. They complain about water pressure, the absence of a shower and a sink that doesn't drain, among other things, and discuss where to put the "anchors" they will use to restrain the victim.

Michael also testified about Mandell's plan to murder one of several men associated with a Bridgeview strip club, which Michael claimed generated about $10 million annually and whose owners were reportedly linked to organized crime. Mandell believed the murder of one associate would intimidate another into leaving the business, Michael said. On the recordings Mandell and Michael discuss getting someone reliable to run the club after they take over.

"You get caught with your hand in the (expletive) cookie jar, you'll be dealt with," said Mandell, whose background includes convictions for burglary, kidnapping and murder, the latter overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Keith Spielfogel characterized Michael as dishonest, pointing to his attempt to avoid paying $76,000 in taxes in 2007 by claiming his 25,000-square-foot Lake Bluff home was a church. Michael got his tax exemption, but the village of Lake Bluff successfully challenged it.

Spielfogel also referenced an $11 million debt Michael owes another man; an FDIC investigation into a now-shuttered bank owned by Michael and his brother; and Michael's failed 2007 attempt to buy into the Bridgeview strip club.

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