Jury finds ex-cop guilty of kidnap, murder plot

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By Jason Meisner Tribune reporter

Steven Mandell, a former death row inmate, was convicted this evening of plotting to kidnap, torture, kill and dismember a wealthy suburban businessman  The federal jury, however, acquitted Mandell of plotting to kill an associate of a reputedly mob-connected strip club to take over the lucrative business.

As the judge was polling the jury to verify the verdict, one juror confirmed it was her verdict but then said “but not the last one.”

U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve then had the jury removed from the courtroom and took a recess.

According to the verdict read aloud in court, the jury convicted Mandell of the first six counts of the indictment but acquitted him of the final two counts that dealt with an alleged plot to kill Anthony “Tony Q” Quaranta, an associate at Polekatz Chicago Gentleman’s Club in Bridgeview.

The federal jury this afternoon began deliberating the fate of an ex-Chicago cop accused in lurid plots to kidnap, torture, kill and dismember a suburban businessman and also murder an associate of a reputedly mob-connected strip club.

Steven Mandell, 63, is facing eight counts, including conspiracy to kidnap, extortion conspiracy, murder-for-hire, obstruction of justice and weapons charges. He faces natural life in prison if convicted of the more serious charges.

The jury was given the case at about 1 p.m. after two weeks of sensational testimony, including dozens of undercover FBI recordings in which Mandell and an alleged accomplice talk about the torture and murder plots. During closing arguments today, prosecutors painted Mandell as a cold, calculated would-be killer and said he lied to jurors when he testified Thursday that all his talk was just an act.

In his rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amar Bhachu asked why — if it was all a big hoax — Mandell would stock the alleged torture chamber he called Club Med with food and weapons and take the time to take the battery out of his cell phone and wrap it in tin foil so it couldn’t be tracked. Bhachu mocked Mandell’s assertion that he was just flinging “BS” with the government’s key informant, Chicago real estate mogul George Michael.

“The BS is what came from the defendant yesterday (on the witness stand),” Bhachu said.

Seated at the defense table, Mandell listened to Bhachu with his cheek resting on his right palm. He occasionally closed his eyes.

His attorney, Keith Spielfogel, told jurors that the recorded conversations at Club Med were “ridiculous and absolutely never should have happened,” but none of the government’s evidence constituted proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He said Mandell was working as a paid investigator for Michael and wanted to impress him but never intended to kill anyone.

Mandell, who spent years on death row before being exonerated in a 1990 murder, is accused of planning to kidnap Riverside businessman Steven Campbell, extort him of his cash and real estate, then kill him and chop his body into pieces. He’s also charged in a separate plot to kill Anthony “Tony Q” Quaranta — and his wife if necessary — in order to take over Quaranta’s stake in Polekatz strip club in Bridgeview.

Prosecutors allege Mandell also called his 82-year-old wife from jail after his October 2012 arrest and asked her to destroy evidence that was in a car parked near Campbell’s home.

In her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur said the footage jurors saw of Mandell laughing about torture and planning Campbell’s dismemberment is “so chilling, so grim…it’s almost stunningly hard to believe.”

“There are things in this case that sink into your mind and are hard to shake out,” MacArthur said.

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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