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2 former cops charged 
in extortion, murder plot

Published: Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO – A former Chicago police officer who spent years on death row before his murder conviction was overturned has been charged with plotting to abduct, extort, kill and dismember someone he believed had access to a large amount of money, federal authorities said Friday.

Steven Mandell, who was known as Steven Manning when he was convicted in 1993 in the slaying of a trucking firm owner, is accused along with former Willow Springs police officer Gary Engel. Authorities allege the two had outfitted an office with a deep sink and other items to allow them to dismember the victim.

According to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago, Mandell and Engel, both 61, were arrested Thursday night after they had driven to the area of the planned abduction of the person, whom authorities did not identify.

– Wire reports

In the news release, prosecutors outline the alleged plot, saying Mandell, of Buffalo Grove and Engel, a resident of Homer Glen, planned to pose as law enforcement officers, use “fake arrest documents” to take the victim into custody, then take the person to the office, which they called “Club Med.”

There, according to prosecutors, the two planned to force the victim to turn over cash and extort about two dozen commercial real estate buildings before killing the person.

“When Mandell and Engel met at the extortion location this week, they allegedly discussed using the counter and sink area to drain the victim’s blood before dismembering the body,” according the news release.

After the two were arrested, FBI agents went to the “Club Med,” where they recovered a loaded semi-automatic pistol, ammunition, zip ties that could be used as restraints, as well as saws and a butcher knife, the release said. And, according to the release, evidence also includes audio and video recordings in which Mandell can be heard saying the victim made $100,000 a month in cash from rental properties.

The two, both in orange jumpsuits and handcuffed, appeared in court Friday, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown ordered they be held until a detention hearing next week. Dan Hesler, a federal defender, who represented them at the hearing, declined to discuss the case.

According to the news release, Mandell was a police officer for 10 years until 1983. He was convicted in 1992 of taking part in the 1984 kidnapping of two reputed Kansas City drug traffickers and was sentenced to two life terms plus 100 years. The next year, he was convicted of the 1990 murder Jimmy Pellegrino, a suburban Chicago trucking company owner.

Sentenced to death, Mandell spent eight years on death row in Illinois before his murder conviction was reversed. He spent several more years in a Missouri prison before the charges in that case were dismissed.

In 2005, he was awarded him more than $6.5 million in damages by a federal jury that determined that two FBI agents had framed him for murder and kidnapping. A federal judge threw out the jury’s award in 2006.

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