Steven Mandell, the 63-year-old Buffalo Grove man convicted in February of plotting to kidnap, torture, extort, kill and dismember a Riverside businessman, has again demanded either to be either acquitted or allowed a new trial.
On April 1, Mandell’s attorney, Keith Spielfogel, submitted a motion of acquittal or new trial in U.S. District Court, arguing there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict his client, that the court improperly failed to suppress prejudicial evidence, improperly admitted evidence and failed to give proper jury instructions among a host of other reasons.
“The collective and cumulative effect of the aforementioned errors deprived Mr. Mandell of a fair trial,” Spielfogel concluded in the motion.
It’s a playbook Mandell, formerly known as Steven Manning, has used successfully in the past.
After resigning as a Chicago police officer in 1983 — he was convicted of insurance fraud and sentenced to probation — Mandell found himself in trouble with the law on multiple occasions.
In 1987, Mandell was convicted of burglary and was sentenced to four years in prison. Then, in 1992, Mandell was convicted of a 1984 kidnapping in Missouri and received a sentence of life in prison.
The kidnapping charges came courtesy of a 1989 tip to the FBI by an imprisoned Kansas City organized crime figure named Anthony Mammolito. The alleged Missouri kidnapping case bore some resemblance to the 2012 plot against Riverside businessman Steven Campbell in that it reportedly involved extortion while threatening to kill the victim.
A 1992 Chicago Tribune article reported that in 1984 Mandell and an accomplice named Gary Engel posed as federal drug agents to kidnap Kansas City nightclub owner Charles D. Ford and another man. Two others reportedly were part of that plot — Mammolito and a man named Thomas McKillip.
According to the article, the two victims were kept blindfolded and held against their will at a cemetery next to an open grave for 14 hours. They were released after Ford’s sister paid $55,000 as ransom.
But Ford never told police about the incident, reportedly fearing they would probe his business affairs. The FBI learned of the incident from Mammolito, who also reportedly told the FBI he believed Mandell had killed McKillip in 1986.
Mammolito also told the FBI that Mandell may have been involved in the 1990 murder of a Chicago man who was once one of Mandell’s business partners. In 1993, Mandell was convicted of the murder of James Pellegrino and sentenced to death.
But, Mandell convinced the Illinois Supreme Court that prosecutors had improperly admitted evidence at his murder trial and had improperly admitted a statement Pellegrino made to his wife, about fears Mandell might kill him, prior to his death.
In 2000, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped the murder charge and Mandell was never re-tried.
In 2002, a federal appeals court overturned the Missouri kidnapping conviction against Mandell, ruling the FBI improperly gathered evidence against him. The court also subsequently overturned Engel’s kidnapping conviction.
In the wake of the two rulings, Mandell sued the FBI and won a $6.5 million judgment against the government. However, that judgment was later vacated and Mandell never collected.
On Feb. 27, 2014, Mandell’s attorney made a motion for acquittal in connection with his most recent conviction, arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided over the trial, rejected the motion.
A month later, on April 1, Spielfogel again submitted a motion for acquittal, this time a more specific one. In it, Spielfogel argues that the government improperly admitted wiretaps as evidence and improperly hid information from the jury that would have painted the government’s informant and star witness, North Shore real estate mogul George Michael, in a more negative light.
Spielfogel also argues in the new motion that the government was “inhumane” to Mandell by keeping him in solitary confinement for 15 months prior to his trial, which hampered his ability to prepare for trail.
In addition, Spielfogel argues that Mandell was not afforded a fair trial for reasons ranging from media coverage prior to the trial that “tainted the proceedings and the jury,” to “excessive” courtroom security, the confusion of one juror when the verdict was announced, “improper” closing arguments and a failure to redact wiretap transcripts that include Mandell making “improper ethnic and sexual references.”
Separately, on March 28, Spielfogel made a motion asking Judge St. Eve to order that Mandell be removed from solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, because the government improperly forced MCC officials to put him there. That motion will be presented to Judge St. Eve at a hearing scheduled for April 10.
On Feb. 21 after a two-week trial in Chicago, a federal jury took less than three hours to convict Mandell on six of eight charges against him. All of the charges he was convicted on revolved around a lurid plot to obtain cash and property from Riverside’s Campbell.
With the aid of Michael, who was secretly working with the FBI, Mandell outfitted an office on Chicago’s Northwest Side with an industrial sink, a heavy-duty countertop, a wheelchair and a variety of tools that would be used while torturing Campbell into handing over his property to Mandell.
Mandell also had enlisted the aid of his longtime associate, Engel, to help with the kidnapping and torture scheme.
Unbeknownst to the two, with Michael’s assistance the FBI had placed surveillance cameras inside the torture chamber, which Mandell dubbed “Club Med,” and the FBI recorded damning video and audio of Mandell and Engel graphically describing what they were planning to do to Campbell.
The FBI also recorded scores of phone calls between Michael and Mandell, which detailed the plot against Campbell and Mandell’s plans to kill Campbell’s daughter if she attempted to claim her father’s estate.
FBI agents arrested Mandell and Engel, who were outfitted with law enforcement identification and driving a police-style vehicle, outside Michael’s real estate office on Oct. 25, 2012, the date they planned to kidnap Campbell there. Engel subsequently committed suicide in jail.
Mandell throughout his trial maintained he never intended to carry out the plot against Campbell, that it was an elaborate charade to trick Michael to keep paying him to do surveillance on Michael’s business rivals.
Federal prosecutors painted Mandell as cold-blooded and a congenital liar.