A federal jury Friday found Steven Mandell of Buffalo Grove guilty of a grisly plot to kidnap, torture and kill a suburban businessman, but acquitted him on other charges involving another murder plan.
After deliberating about four hours, jurors found Mandell guilty of six of the eight charges against him, including conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to commit extortion, and several firearm charges. Jurors found him not guilty of two counts of murder for hire.
Mandell, 63, expressed no emotion during the verdict announcement. He could face a maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced June 19.
U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon thanked jurors for their service and law enforcement and prosecutors for their work on the case, whose verdict announcement was held up after one juror indicated during jury polling her disagreement with the last two counts. In a note she sent to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve a short time later, the woman attributed her response to a language problem. Upon re-polling she and the other jurors confirmed unanimous verdicts on all eight counts.
Deliberations began early Friday afternoon after nearly three hours of closing arguments during which Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur referenced chilling moments from the government's case. She recounted Mandell -- a former Chicago police officer and onetime death row inmate -- planning the abduction and murder of a suburban businessman whose money and property prosecutors say Mandell wanted.
Recordings played during the trial show Mandell and cohort Gary Engel discussing torturing the businessman into signing over some of his properties to Mandell and then killing him in a specially outfitted building they dubbed "Club Med" located on the 5300 block of Devon Avenue in Chicago.
Engel, a former police officer also charged in this case, committed suicide in the McHenry County jail days before his arraignment.
On the tapes, Mandell and Engel discuss needing restraints, a heavy-duty table, proper drainage and an industrial sink to first restrain the victim and then dismember him to dispose of his body.
"Sink, drain, locks. It was a constant repetitive refrain, like a drumbeat," said MacArthur. She also referenced various instruments -- knives, a meat cleaver, a .22 caliber gun -- found at the site, and said the men intended to use them on their victim.
MacArthur also referenced Mandell's plot to murder a man associated with a lucrative Bridgeview strip club whose principals reportedly had mob connections. Mandell wanted the man out of the way so he could take over the club himself, MacArthur said.
"He wanted to gain respect, money, and he wanted to realign things so that he would be the new sheriff in town," she said.
Mandell testified Thursday that the recorded conversations were all part of a hoax to collect money from George Michael, a Chicago real estate developer and FBI informant who over several months taped conversations with Mandell in which they discussed the murders.
Describing the government's case as "riddled with reasonable doubt," defense attorney Keith Spielfogel, insisted his client never intended to hurt anyone. Spielfogel said Mandell merely saw an opportunity to make money with star prosecution witness Michael, who Mandell said was obsessed with the strip club, in which he unsuccessfully tried to purchase a stake in 2007. Mandell said Michael paid him $1,000 a week to investigate club associates and others who Michael claimed cheated him. Mandell testified on Thursday that he told Michael what he wanted to hear so Mandell would continue getting paid.
"Those are words that have absolutely no substance," Spielfogel said, adding that the idea Mandell could somehow eliminate the owners of a mob-connected business and take over was "complete and utter nonsense." Spielfogel pointed the finger at Michael, saying he had the most to gain if the strip club associates were eliminated.
Scoffing at the idea of the businessman turning over property to Mandell and then going missing, Spielfogel insisted that would have raised suspicions and prompted an investigation into the transaction.
Referring to Mandell as television character Magnum P.I., Assistant U.S. Attorney Amerjeet Bhachu scoffed at Mandell's claim that he provided investigative services for Michael, questioning why no reference of payment is included in any of the recorded conversations. He further dismissed the defense's "smoke and mirrors argument."
"How on earth are you going to make money on a kidnap scheme that's never going to happen?" said Bhachu, who challenged Mandell's claim that his behavior was all for show, asking why he put so much effort into preparing the room for the murder, tracking targets, and removing evidence from his car.
"What we have in this case is testimony from George Michael, backed up by recordings backed up by actions," said Bhachu. "On the other side of the ledger, we have this guy (Mandell) whose story makes no sense."