The Chicago Syndicate: Steven Mandell Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murder Plot

Friday, December 12, 2014

Steven Mandell Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murder Plot

After decades of drama in Chicago, including a murder conviction, death sentence, shocking exoneration and landmark lawsuit against the FBI, all Steven Mandell says he wanted to do was quietly live out his golden years in Florida. "I was happily retired, living with my lovely wife in a golf course community in Naples," Mandell, 64, said Thursday as he delivered bizarre remarks at his sentencing in a packed federal courtroom. "It was the perfect life."

Instead,he came out of retirement in 2012 and returned to Chicago, where he was soon arrested in a grisly plot to kidnap, murder and dismember a suburban businessman. Mandell said he was once again framed by an untrustworthy informant, continuing his "long FBI nightmare." But U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve was unmoved by the melodrama. Moments after the former Chicago cop wrapped up more than 30 minutes of mostly rambling remarks — including cheerfully wishing the judge a merry Christmas — St. Eve sentenced him to life in prison for kidnapping and extortion conspiracy and added a mandatory five-year sentence for a gun conviction.

It was an emphatic end for Mandell, a reputed underworld figure whom law enforcement has long considered a dangerous killer and elusive target.

Years ago Mandell — who then went by the name Steven Manning — was sent to death row for the drug-related 1990 slaying of a trucking firm owner. After his murder conviction was overturned on appeal, he won a landmark $6.5 million verdict in a lawsuit against the FBI. A judge, however, later threw out the verdict, and Mandell never collected a penny.

Mandell moved to Florida after the ruling and vanished from the public eye. Several years later, he came back to Chicago under his new name and soon was meeting with reputed mobsters at La Scarola restaurant on Grand Avenue, according to court records.

The latest case against Mandell unfolded in October 2012 when he and his accomplice, Gary Engel, were arrested outside the Northwest Side office of George Michael, a former banker and real estate mogul who pretended to go along with the macabre plan to kidnap Riverside businessman Stephen Campbell and extort him for his cash and property.

Michael had helped Mandell outfit a Devon Avenue storefront with an industrial sink, butcher table and other equipment needed to drain Campbell's body of blood and chop it to pieces. But Michael was wearing a wire for the feds, and the storefront — which Mandell dubbed "Club Med" — was rigged with a hidden FBI camera.

Engel hanged himself in his jail cell shortly after he and Mandell were arrested, authorities said.

In the videos played at Mandell's February trial, he laughed when he described how victims often come unglued before their deaths. He mimed a blindfolded prisoner, then drew a hand across his throat to signify a killing. He seemed to have mirth in his eyes as he made moaning sounds describing the carnage he could inflict.

"Uhhhh please ... aaaaaaahhhh! It's pitiful," Mandell said in one recording.

Mandell's attorney, Francis Lipuma, sought as few as 12 years in prison, saying Mandell should get credit for the two decades he spent behind bars for a murder he didn't commit. Lipuma noted that no one was actually harmed in the kidnapping plot and said if Mandell were released in his 80s, he'd be at a point in his life "when criminal activity would have concluded." But in asking for a life sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu painted Mandell as a sadistic narcissist who "actually takes pleasure from hurting people." "He likes it. It arouses him!" said Bhachu, pointing to the defense table at Mandell, who took a sip of water from a Styrofoam cup.

In her ruling, St. Eve said Mandell's actions showed a "complete disregard for human life." "The pure delight that you showed in those videos … it came through loud and clear," St. Eve said. "The glee in your face was very apparent. It was, quite frankly, chilling."

St. Eve said a life sentence was necessary to keep Mandell from returning to a life of violence and crime.

When FBI agents raided Mandell's Buffalo Grove home after his arrest, they found more than $16,000 in cash in two separate stashes as well as thousands of dollars more in a safe-deposit box at a nearby bank, recent court filings show. Mandell has asked for the money to be returned to his 83-year-old wife, but prosecutors have objected in sealed filings.

Thanks to Jason Meisner.

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