A notorious ex-cop who had escaped both a life sentence and a death sentence after having kidnapping and murder convictions overturned on appeal will spend the rest of his life in the nation’s highest-security federal prison after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case earlier this week.
Steven Mandell, 66, convicted of plotting in 2012 to kidnap, torture and kill a Riverside businessman in order to get hold of his money and real estate holdings, ran out of appeals on Feb. 21 with the Supreme Court’s decision to turn down his request for a hearing.
He remains at the Florence, Colorado, administrative maximum (ADMAX) prison – sometimes referred to as “the Alcatraz of the Rockies” — where he’s resided since late 2015.
The prison holds about 420 inmates, including many of the most notorious criminals convicted by federal authorities. Other inmates include Theodore Kaczynski, also known as “The Unabomber”; Terry Nichols, one of the men convicted of bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City; Eric Rudolph, the man convicted of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta; and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Life inside the Florence supermax prison is bleak, with inmates confined to their cells for 23 hours a day, according to a 2015 Scripps News Service interview with federal prison spokesman Juan Segovia.
Inmates are not allowed to interact with one another, though they do communicate sometimes from cell to cell. Each cell is outfitted with a TV that offers programming 24 hours a day.
In an interview published in 2016 by The Marshall Project, former Florence ADMAX prisoner Travis Dusenbury called the prison “the harshest place you’ve ever seen. Nothing living, not so much as a blade of grass anywhere.”
Mandell was convicted of kidnapping in Missouri in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison. While serving that sentence, he was convicted of the 1990 murder of one of his Chicago business partners and sentenced to death.
But both convictions were overturned on appeal in the early 2000s and the cases were never retried.
By 2011, he’d identified Riverside businessman Steve Campbell as someone who might provide him with a payday, knowing of his large property holdings and believing he kept large amounts of cash on hand.
In the summer of 2012, Mandell believed he obtained a way to Campbell through a Chicago real estate broker named George Michael. Mandell didn’t know that Michael was an FBI informant wearing a wire.
Mandell rented a storefront from Michael and built a torture chamber he referred to as “Club Med” and enlisted an old partner in crime, Gary Engel, who’d also been convicted of the Missouri kidnapping, to help force the money and property from Campbell before killing him.
The FBI recorded many conversations between Mandell and Michael and then bugged Club Med to obtain video and conversations between Mandell and Engel just prior to the day they planned to kidnap Campbell at Michael’s real estate office.
When they arrived, the FBI agent wearing one of Campbell’s hats and sitting in one of his cars served as a decoy. As they approached, FBI agents closed in and captured Mandell and Engel. Campbell was safely at home in Riverside at the time.
Engel killed himself in jail shortly after his arrest. In early 2014, Mandell was convicted of conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to extort money and property, attempted extortion, using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, possession of a firearm by a felon, and attempted obstruction of justice by a federal jury. He was sentenced to life in prison plus five years.