Steven Mandell of Buffalo Grove told a federal jury Thursday that his recorded conversations about torturing, killing and dismembering a suburban businessmen were all fabricated so an FBI informant would keep paying him.
"I told him anything he wanted to hear," said Mandell, 63, who took the witness stand to answer the government's charges of attempted kidnapping, attempted extortion and murder for hire among other charges. "I was feeding the man's obsession and getting paid for it at the same time."
Prosecutors say Mandell, a former Chicago police officer and onetime death row inmate, planned to abduct a suburban businessman, torture him until he agreed to sign over various properties he owned and then murder him and dismember his body.
Much of the government's case rests on the testimony of Chicago real estate developer and FBI informant George Michael. Over several months in 2012, Michael recorded numerous conversations with Mandell during which the men discussed killing the businessman for his property and money at a specially outfitted building on Devon Avenue in Chicago which they dubbed "Club Med."
On the recordings, they also discussed their plans to murder one of several men associated with a Bridgeview strip club which reportedly generated $10 million annually and whose owners were linked to organized crime, testified Michael, who failed in his 2007 bid to buy into the club.
"The man was obsessed with getting his foot in the strip club industry," Mandell said.
Mandell testified that he met Michael through mutual friends at a Chicago restaurant in June 2012. A few weeks later, Mandell said, Michael hired him for $1,000 a week to investigate about a half dozen men who Michael said cheated him out of his interest in the strip club, as well as a man to whom Michael owed $11 million.
"He felt he was entitled to the club," said Mandell, whose investigative services "amounted to spying on these people," including installing tracking devices on several of their cars.
Mandell admitted making statements about killing the businessman and his college-age daughter if she contested the property transfer. He also said he discussed murdering one of the strip club associates and his wife at the couple's home while their children were at school. Insisting it was all a hoax, Mandell said he never intended to hurt anyone.
He called it "preposterous" and "ridiculous" to imagine that he could kill associates of a mob-affiliated strip club and announce to the legal owner, a Downers Grove attorney, that he was taking over as "the new sheriff in town."
Mandell testified Michael gave him computer printouts of real estate forms with the individuals' addresses, which Mandell kept in a priority mail envelope in his car.
"I told George Michael I was doing quite a bit of work when actually I was doing very little work," said Mandell, who used a search program at the Chicago law firm where he volunteered to get information on the people he said Michael wanted investigated.
"I consistently lied to him," said Mandell. He said the knives, saws and ties authorities recovered from "Club Med" were "props for a supposed killing that was never going to take place."
Prosecutors on cross examination painted Mandell as a liar. They say he claimed to have no income so he could obtain free legal counsel even though he had received $10,000 from Michael for his investigative services. Prosecutors questioned Mandell about false statements they say he made in the past and about fake credentials they say he obtained. And they claimed he lied to his wife about his mistress, whom Mandell described as a "romantic involvement."
They also suggested that Mandell planned to use lock-picking tools found in the trunk of his car to burglarize wealthy individuals he investigated for Michael.
Closing arguments begin at 10 a.m. Friday.