The man known in court documents as “Soupy Sales,” the intended victim of an alleged elaborate kidnapping, extortion, murder scheme by a pair of ex-cops, is a Riverside businessman who owns many commercial and residential properties in Brookfield.
It was on Oct. 25, 2012 that Steven Mandell and Gary Engel allegedly planned to snatch Steve Campbell outside a Northwest Side real estate office and drive him to a nearby office building — which they casually referred to as “Club Med” — where they intended to extort money and deeds to Campbell’s real estate holdings before killing him, chopping up his body and disposing of his remains.
“I dodged a bullet for whatever reason,” said Campbell. “Whatever that force was, was looking out for me and somebody felt they had to step in and do something.”
That “somebody” turned out to be a Chicago real estate magnate named George Michael, according to the Chicago Tribune, who identified him as “Individual A” in the indictment against Mandell a month after he was arrested.
Jury selection for Mandell’s trial began Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Campbell is expected to testify either later this week or early next week.
Campbell, who is referred to as “Victim 1” in the indictment against Mandell, is a well-known Riverside businessman known primarily as a property owner in Brookfield. Over the past 15 years, Campbell has clashed with Brookfield officials over issues of zoning, building codes and property rights.
Back in 2004, he made headlines when he pitched a six-story condominium building for property he owned at DuBois Boulevard and Burlington Avenue. He convinced the village board at the time to grant him nearly a dozen zoning variations and a year later sold the property to a real estate developer, making a sizeable profit.
No development ever materialized and the property eventually went into foreclosure. In 2011, the village of Brookfield bought the property, which has been turned into a commuter parking lot, for $285,000.
George Michael, 59, is a colorful character who was known to federal authorities for years. He most famously attempted several years ago to have his North Shore mansion declared an Armenian church to escape paying property taxes.
It’s unclear exactly how the FBI and Michael joined forces in this instance, but prosecutors will use recordings of conversations between Michael and Mandell, in which the 63-year-old Mandell lays out the plot to kidnap and kill Campbell in nonchalant, chilling detail. The FBI also has video recordings made at “Club Med,” according to court documents.
“Even now, 15 months later, when I think about it, I understand it at an intellectual level,” said Campbell. “But it’s like an out-of-body experience. There’s a surreal quality to it.”
Mandell, formerly known as Steven Manning, was a Chicago police officer for a decade when he resigned in 1983 after pleading guilty to charges related to an insurance fraud scheme.
According to court records, Mandell was also convicted of burglary and of murder and sentenced to death. The conviction was overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court because of improper admission of evidence and improper admission of a statement the murder victim made to his wife. In addition, Mandell was convicted in Missouri of kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison. But that was also overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Engel was a former Willow Springs police officer in the 1970s. According to court records, from 1970 into the early 1990s, Engel was convicted of weapons offenses, burglary and impersonating a police officer.
In 1991, Engel was tried along with Mandell in Missouri for kidnapping and armed criminal action and received a 90-year sentence that was later reversed.
In March 2013 a special grand jury returned an eight-count indictment against Mandell, charging him with conspiring to kidnap, torture, extort and murder Campbell, 64.
Mandell was also charged with attempting to destroy evidence after the fact by calling his wife from the Chicago federal lockup and asking her to get rid of items from a car he had parked near Campbell’s home. Mandell hoped to avoid suspicion about Campbell’s disappearance by driving Campbell’s car back to Riverside and then heading back to “Club Med” in his own vehicle.
In addition, Mandell was charged with intending to murder a second victim in order to gain a financial stake in a south suburban strip club.
Engel, 61, who was arrested along with Mandell, hanged himself in November 2012 in his cell at the McHenry County Jail, where he was being held while awaiting arraignment.
It’s unclear just when Mandell decided on Campbell as the target for his scheme, but it appears it may have been as early as Oct. 5, 2011. On that day Campbell came home and checked out front of his house for the mail. Inside his front door he found a handwritten note and a business card.
The note inquired about a property Campbell owned on Ogden Avenue in Brookfield. The phone number on the business card had an out-of-state area code. Campbell called the number and a man answered.
While it wasn’t unusual for Campbell to get inquiries about his commercial properties, this one bothered him because an unknown person left the note at his home.
When Campbell asked the unknown man how he found out where he lived, the man reportedly told him he stopped by Campbell’s “office” and that people at the business next door gave him the address.
“It just seemed kind of weird,” Campbell said.
The building the man referred to as Campbell’s “office” is not an office at all, and Campbell does not use the building for such a purpose. And the people at the business next door don’t know where he lives, Campbell said. That made Campbell suspicious.
The next morning, he personally turned the letter and business card over to Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, who confirmed on Monday that the FBI had seized the letter and business card recently as evidence in the case against Mandell.
And there were other anomalies in 2012, including suspicious vehicles parked near Campbell’s home. In September 2012, in an incident Campbell says never got officially reported to police, he saw a red sports car parked across the street in the Indian Gardens parking lot.
As Campbell went outside to get in his car, which was parked in his driveway, the red car pulled out of the Indian Gardens lot. An older man driving the car waved to him and drove off at a fast clip east on Fairbank Road.
He also got other oddball phone calls from people saying they were interested in properties. Campbell said that several of the calls appeared to have been made by people trying to disguise their voices. Others just didn’t make any sense.
“I didn’t put all the dots together until it all went down,” Campbell said.
Towards the fall of 2012, Mandell got Michael involved. The FBI began recording conversations between the two that September, conversations in which Mandell allegedly would refer to Campbell as “Soupy Sales.” The FBI also alleged that they captured chilling, gruesome conversations between Mandell and Engel, describing how they were to torture Campbell, including mutilating his genitals, to extort money and property from him.
On Oct. 23, Campbell had been “off the grid” as he put it and had not paid much attention to his cellphone — a rare day. That evening he noticed he had eight missed calls, six of them from a blocked number and two from the same number.
The caller left a message — it was the FBI.
“She said I wasn’t in trouble, but that we needed to talk,” Campbell said.
They met the next morning at P.J. Klem’s on Ogden Avenue.
“I was informed that my name was on a very short list of people that liked to rob others,” Campbell said.
That was about it.
“I didn’t realize there were only two names and mine was first,” Campbell said.
The FBI also wanted to borrow one of Campbell’s cars, one of his trademark Hawaiian shirts and one of his hats. For the next two days, Campbell kept in touch with the FBI. On Thursday, the day he was to meet with Michael at his Northwest Side real estate office, Campbell was told to simply stay home.
That evening he got a call that two suspects were in custody. It wasn’t until the next day, when the federal complaint against Mandell and Engel came out that Campbell realized what had been planned for him.
“The fact that this guy was tracking me so long, that I don’t know him and never met him is just mind-numbing,” said Campbell. “It’s like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.”
The big question — why Steve Campbell — is still just conjecture at this point. Perhaps it will come up during the trial, but Campbell said he can only speculate at this point.
“Nobody knows,” he said, “at least that’s what everybody’s saying now.”
Rarely a day goes by without Campbell thinking about what might have been, but he said he’s been able to compartmentalize it.
“I just want him to forget me. Other than that I have to let it go,” Campbell said. “He’s going to be convicted and go to prison until he dies there. I have to be satisfied with that.”