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U.S. Has New Charges Against Exonerated Cop

CHICAGO (CN) - A former Illinois police officer who was exonerated of a murder conviction after serving seven years on death row faces new charges of murder conspiracy.

Steven Mandell, formerly known as Steven Manning, reportedly became the 13th and last Illinois death row inmate to be cleared of a capital conviction in 2000. Two weeks after his release, Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on the death penalty.

But federal prosecutors set their sights on the 61-year-old former police officer again Friday, charging him and another 61-year-old former officer, Gary Engel, with attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion.

A footnote to the criminal complaint explains Mandell's long arrest history. Mandell resigned from the Chicago police force when he pleaded guilty to an insurance fraud scheme in 1983. In 1987, he was convicted of burglary. In 1992, Mandell and Engel were both convicted of a kidnapping in Missouri.

Based on the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Cook County then charged Mandell with the murder of trucking firm owner James Pellegrino, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Mandell was tried for the murder and sentenced to death in 1993, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruled eight years later that the trial judge impermissibly admitted testimony from Pellegrino's wife.

In 2002, a year after that conviction was reversed, the 8th Circuit reversed both Mandell and Engel's kidnapping convictions. The footnote to the new complaint says that a new trial was ordered in 2002 because a "government informant elicited statements from Manning concerning a false alibi after Sixth Amendment right to counsel had attached."

Prosecutors declined to pursue the old case and released the two men in 2004.

A federal jury later awarded Mandell $6.5 million after finding that FBI agents had framed Mandell for the kidnapping. The 7th Circuit later vacated the award.

In an affidavit attached to the new criminal complaint, FBI Agent Richard Tipton says

Mandell and Engel were arrested Thursday "after they traveled to the vicinity of Individual A's workplace, the location of the planned abduction of Victim 1. Both Mandell and Engel had multiple false law enforcement identifications on their person, as well as 'prop' firearms."

The men "planned to abduct Victim 1, take Victim 1 to an office space (which was referred to by Mandell in coded conversation as 'Club Med'), where actual and threatened force, violence and fear were to be used to make Victim 1 transfer Victim 1's property to Mandell, such as bulk quantities of cash and real estate," according to the affidavit.

They planned to torture, kill, and dismember their victim, the agent says.

In a search of "Club Med," police allegedly uncovered "a loaded firearm, ammunition, a butcher knife and saws suitable for the dismemberment of Victim 1, and multiple zipties and anchors that could be used to restrain Victim 1."

Mandell, who referred to his planned victim as "Soupie Sales," allegedly believed that his victim generated tens of thousands of dollars in cash monthly from 25 rental properties. In one recorded conversation, Mandell asked a FBI cooperator, identified only as Individual A: "So you think he does 100K a month?" When Individual A agreed, Mandell said, "He's always been a cash guy."

In the same meeting, Individual A allegedly questioned whether the victim would give up his money, but "Mandell reassured Individual A. Mandell whispered: 'Everything.'"

"Mandell then let out several simulated sobs/cries of pain and said: 'It's pitiful. Hershey squirts up the asswad,'" according to the complaint. "[Mandell advised that Victim 1 might lose composure and defecate during the extortion process.]" (Brackets in original.)

Prosecutors say Individual A also told Mandell that the victim's wife was dead, so only his daughter was heir to the man's rental properties.

"Mandell expressed his excitement: 'My dick is so big and hard right now,'" the affidavit states. "Individual A thereafter repeated: 'She's dead, she's morte. There's no heir, just the daughter.' [I believe Individual A advised Mandell there was only one possible heir to the property Mandell was going to extort from Victim 1 before killing Victim 1, because Victim 1's wife had passed away.] Later, Mandell said: 'Soupie is exactly what I thought he is, and it gets better by the minute.'" (Brackets in original.)

The FBI claims Mandell made plans to renovate "Club Med," a vacant office space located on the Northwest side of Chicago, to accommodate his plans, including the installation of a large double sink, a shower, and a counter that was "easy to clean, where it's heavy for weight, so you could put a couple hundred pounds on there."

Prosecutors say Mandell and Engel are also on tape discussing body dismemberment.

As summarized in the affidavit, "Mandell said: 'Okay, where do you want to do the deed on this guy? You want to get him up here on the counter top? You want the two by fours over here? Because we don't want to be cutting into here.' [Mandell asked if wood should be placed on the counter top, so that it would not be damaged when Victim 1's body was dismembered.] Engel suggested 'lean him across here' and letting 'him drain.' [Engel suggested position Victim 1's dead body in such a fashion so on the counter top/sink area so that the blood could drain into the sink.] Engel said: 'You want him to bleed out. You want to let him drain.' Mandell replied: 'Correct,' and added: 'But as soon as he bleeds out, in about a half hour, we'll want to straighten him out.' Engel said: 'Okay.' Mandell said: 'I don't want a curled body. He's going be like this then.' [Mandell indicated Victim 1's corpse would need to be straightened out after most of the blood had drained from the corpse.]" (Brackets in original.)

Tipton says that, in a later meeting, "Engel discussed how to position Victim 1's corpse in order to drain blood from Victim 1's body: 'You can get him in the femoral artery and let his ass sag in the center and just let it drain.' Mandell said: 'And gravity will bring it in like that.' Engel replied: 'Yep, it sure will. Let his ass sag in the middle.'"

If convicted, each man faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine for each count.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amarjeet Bhachu and Diane MacArthur represent the government.

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