Steve Campbell, the Riverside businessman who allegedly was the target of a lurid kidnapping/extortion/murder plot cooked up by a couple of ex-cops in 2012, will take the witness stand Wednesday afternoon on behalf of the prosecution in U.S District court in Chicago.
Campbell is one of more than two dozen witnesses expected to testify this week as prosecutors wrap up their case against Steven Mandell, a 63-year-old Buffalo Grove man who allegedly masterminded the scheme to extort what he hoped would be hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and real estate holdings from Campbell.
Mandell’s alleged accomplice, 61-year-old Gary Engel, hanged himself in McHenry County Jail shortly after the two were arrested outside a real estate office on the Northwest Side of Chicago on Oct. 25, 2012.
Keith Spielfogel, Mandell’s attorney, told jurors his client never meant to follow through on the plan. But Mandell, who reportedly is scheduled to testify in his own defense, may have a tough time explaining away hours of secretly recorded phone calls and video of Mandell and Engel plotting Campbell’s murder.
Randall Samborn, spokesman for the U.S Attorney’s Office, said he expects the prosecution to wrap up its case sometime on Thursday.
Last week, jurors learned the gruesome details of Mandell’s alleged murder plot against Campbell along with a second, unrelated plan to kill the owner of the Bridgeview strip club in order to get a stake in the business.
Jurors heard and watched hours of conversations that the FBI secretly recorded between Sept. 5 and Oct. 25, 2012. Their key to cracking the case was North Shore real estate mogul George Michael, a controversial figure who it came out in court had been cooperating with federal authorities since 2009.
A chilling detail revealed by the recordings was that Mandell allegedly also planned to kill Campbell’s daughter, Carly, if she came forward to claim her father’s estate.
“That was the part that really pissed me off,” Campbell told the Landmark in an interview on Monday. “That made me outrageously angry; beyond nuclear mode.”
But Campbell said he hasn’t read all of the transcripts released last week by prosecutors, nor does he really want to.
“I wouldn’t go through it,” Campbell said. “It serves no purpose other than to be useful information to piss me off. Again, what can I do about it? I would just as soon Mandell forget about me and my daughter.”
Especially damning to Mandell are two video recordings from Oct. 24 and 25, which feature only Mandell and Engel inside the Northwest Side office space that had been converted allegedly for the purpose of torturing, killing and dismembering Campbell.
The gruesome purpose of the space was camouflaged by lettering on the front door stating “Christian Consulting.” Church pews and religious pictures were placed in the front of the office space. Behind it, according to prosecutors, was an open area Mandell and Engel had hastily transformed into a torture/body disposal chamber they jokingly referred to as “Club Med.” It contained little more than an industrial three-basin sink next to a long wooden countertop allegedly to be used for butchering Campbell’s body.
Michael set up a meeting at his real estate office, ostensibly about renting a property, with Campbell on Oct. 25, 2012.
Engel and Mandell, posing as police officers armed with a phony warrant and identification, allegedly were going to kidnap Campbell there and whisk him the short distance between Michael’s real estate office and Club Med.
The final FBI video recording ends with Mandell and Engel leaving Club Med allegedly to kidnap Campbell outside Michael’s real estate office. A swarm of FBI agents arrested the two as they arrived at the scene.
Michael’s meeting with Mandell, who was already wearing a wire for the FBI, at an Italian restaurant in July 2012 appears to have been coincidental. But the two soon became close associates, and Mandell reportedly believed Michael was a key accomplice in the murder plots, particularly the one involving Campbell.
One piece of evidence prosecutors are likely to question Campbell about is a letter that mysteriously showed up inside the front door of Campbell’s Riverside home in October 2011. The letter inquired about real estate in Brookfield that Campbell owns.
However, Campbell was immediately suspicious of the letter and he turned it over to Riverside police, who held onto it until just weeks ago, when they handed it over to the FBI as part of the case.
Mandell allegedly had been tracking Campbell for at least nine months before he met Michael, a real estate broker who finally was able to get past Campbell’s suspicions.