Man who plotted Riverside man’s abduction sent to Colorado pen

By BOB UPHUES

Editor

When Steven Mandell was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a gruesome plot — eventually foiled by the FBI — to kidnap, torture, extort, kill and dismember a Riverside businessman, his attorney requested that Mandell, 64, be placed at a high-security federal prison in Florida to be near his wife, who is in her 80s.

The judge who presided over Mandell’s trial in U.S. District Court last February, Amy St. Eve, concurred and recommended that the Federal Bureau of Prisons place Mandell at the Coleman II Prison in Sumterville, Florida, near Orlando.

But the Bureau of Prisons had other plans.

Instead, Mandell is serving his sentence at the high-security penitentiary that’s part of a federal complex in Florence, Colorado, and home to some of the nation’s most notorious criminals.

Built in a barren, desert-like area south of Colorado Springs, the Florence prison complex includes three separate facilities. There’s a medium-security facility holding about 1,060 inmates, a high-security facility holding about 600 inmates and a supermax facility, known as Florence ADX.

The supermax facility houses high-profile detainees, including terrorists such as Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted of helping plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks; Terry Nichols, convicted of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people; Theodore Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber; and Eric Rudolph, convicted of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996.

Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, confirmed that Mandell is not being housed in the supermax facility, but rather in what is known as USP Florence-High.

The high-security facility also houses some of the nation’s most violent offenders. Presently, it counts among its inmates Dritan Duka, one of five people convicted of a 2007 terrorist plot to attack Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Chevie Kehoe, a white supremacist whose crime spree during the 1990s included torturing and killing an Arkansas family he believed had gold hidden on their property, engaging in a shootout with police in Ohio and pipe-bombing the Spokane, Washington, city hall.

Burke would not disclose why the Bureau of Prisons sent Mandell to Florence instead of Florida or comment on the conditions under which Mandell is being held, saying, “We don’t comment on the conditions of confinement for individual inmates.”

For most of the time he was held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, Mandell was kept in solitary confinement after prison officials determined he posed a risk. 

While in the prison’s general population, Mandell allegedly tried to arrange for the murder of the government’s key witness against him. He was convicted of using a prison telephone to direct his wife to conceal evidence related to the planned abduction of Riverside resident Steven Campbell after his arrest in October 2012.

Mandell’s attorney has attempted to get his client out of solitary confinement, but those efforts were put to an end in May 2014 when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered “special administrative measures” (SAMs) against Mandell, substantially curtailing his access to the outside world.

Francis Lipuma, Mandell’s attorney, said he is trying to ascertain exactly under what conditions Mandell is being held at Florence. Assuming SAMs has not been lifted, and there is nothing to indicate that it has, Mandel’s confinement at Florence is very likely solitary and strict.

“Only .02 percent of federal prisoners are subjected to SAMs, like terrorists,” said Lipuma. “We obviously don’t think he should be subjected to SAMs, and we’re in the process of collecting information.”

Lipuma indicated that he may file a lawsuit in Colorado district court, depending on the information he is able to collect regarding Mandell’s confinement there.

Mandell was convicted of six counts related to the plot against Campbell in February 2014 and sentenced in December. Mandell has appealed the jury’s verdict. Lipuma said he hopes oral arguments may be ready to take place in the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals by the end of 2015.

The situation Mandell finds himself in is a familiar one. He previously was sentenced to death for one of several murders the government suspects he’s committed over the years and also was handed a life sentence in Missouri for an unrelated kidnapping/extortion plot.

On both occasions, Mandell was freed when an appeals court overturned the verdicts and ordered retrials, which were never held. After those reversals, Mandell successfully sued the FBI and was awarded $6.5 million in damages. However, a judge later vacated that judgment and Mandell never collected the money.