- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - A former Chicago police officer who spent years on death row before his murder conviction was overturned was found guilty Friday of a grisly plot to kill a businessman but was acquitted of a second plot to kill another businessman and his wife.

Steven Mandell was convicted of plotting to kidnap, torture, extort money, and then kill and dismember Riverside businessman Steve Campbell in an office he and an accomplice had equipped with saws and a sink in which to drain the person’s blood. Authorities say he wanted Campbell to transfer ownership of 25 buildings to him.

Mandell was acquitted of a murder-for-hire plot involving a second businessman and his wife. Prosecutors said Mandell targeted strip club owner Anthony Quaranta and his wife to seize control of the lucrative Bridgeview club.

The jury’s verdict became muddled briefly when a juror indicated during polling to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve that she didn’t agree with clearing Mandell of the second plot. She later said she had a language issue and was confused by the question. She said she agreed with the verdicts on all counts.

St. Eve set Mandell’s sentencing for June 19.

Authorities say Mandell and former Willow Springs police officer Gary Engel were about to carry out the crimes when they were arrested in October 2012. Engel committed suicide soon after their arrest.

“Life is a gift to be valued,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane McArthur told jurors. “For Steve Mandell in 2012, it was something to be squeezed and drained.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amar Bhachu told jurors that “overwhelming evidence,” including hours of video footage of Mandell plotting crimes, meant they need only use their “common sense” to convict Mandell.

But defense attorney Keith Spielfogel said there was a lack of evidence to conclude Mandell intended to follow through with either plot.

Spielfogel placed the blame for the plots onto the government’s star witness, real estate investor George Michael, who secretly taped Mandell as he discussed the plots.

“There isn’t anything that man said on the stand that you can take to the bank,” he said, noting Michael’s alleged unsavory past in the banking industry and property taxes cheating.

The 62-year-old Mandell has had multiple encounters with the law since he left a 10-year career as a police officer in 1983.

Formerly known as Steven Manning, he was convicted in 1992 for his role in the 1984 kidnapping of two reputed Kansas City drug traffickers and was sentenced to two life terms plus 100 years. He was later cleared of those charges on appeal, and in 2005, he was awarded more than $6.5 million in damages by a federal jury that determined that two FBI agents had framed him. A federal judge threw out the award in 2006.

In 1993, he was convicted of killing Jimmy Pellegrino, a suburban Chicago trucking company owner, three years earlier. Mandell spent eight years on death row for that killing before his conviction was overturned.

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