A federal judge sentenced a 51-year-old Palm Beach Gardens resident and former New Jersey lawyer to more than 24 years in federal prison Tuesday for his involvement in a foiled kidnap plot of a wealthy Palm Beach County businessman for a $20 million ransom.
The man believed the elderly victim was engineering private high-stakes poker games which had personally cost him more than $100,000.
Prosecutors played secretly recorded tapes of the man, for the first time in public, threatening what he believed was the elderly victim’s wife with terrible violence if she didn’t meet his demands.
The man was unaware that the woman he was threatening was an undercover FBI agent posing as the victim’s wife.
While the man pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy, prosecutors believe the case could have ended tragically if witnesses had not tipped off the FBI.
The Palm Beach Gardens man apparently planned the crime for 18 months with a 37-year-old Jupiter man, who pleaded guilty to his role and is serving a little more than 10 years in prison.
The FBI became involved with the kidnapping plan after the former lawyer confided in his girlfriend. She introduced him to her friend who allegedly had ties to Russian mobsters. After meeting with the man, the girlfriend and the friend reported the man to the FBI. Undercover agents were introduced to the former attorney, who had no clue he had been fooled until he was arrested.
The man was sentenced Tuesday on the eve of the anniversary of his May 29, 2012, arrest in the parking lot of a home improvement store in Palm Beach County where he thought he was showing up to receive a $12 million ransom. This amount was negotiated down from the initial demand of $20 million.
A Senior U.S. District Judge called the crime a plan to commit a “brutal kidnapping,” and not a crime of impulse.
Even though the man pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy, he tried to diminish his role during court hearings last week and Tuesday.
The judge called the man a liar and said that he perjured himself during the sentencing hearing.
The former attorney testified that he was not the mastermind behind the kidnapping plot and accused authorities of entrapping him into committing a worse crime.
However, after hearing the recordings of the man, the judge ruled that law enforcement had in no way entrapped the man and that he was “the driving force” behind the plot.
Although the victim’s identity has been concealed by authorities, the judge said the man targeted “an elderly man without any concern about how he’d be able to endure something like this.”
Kidnapping and even attempted kidnapping are recognized as federal charges. The penalties attached to kidnapping and attempted kidnapping are quite severe. Being convicted of kidnapping can result in a lifetime behind bars. This crime is taken very seriously by police, prosecutors and judges, so if you or someone you love is currently being investigated for, or charged with kidnapping or attempted kidnapping, you must act fast and enlist the help of a criminal defense lawyer. A Florida Criminal Defense Attorney at Whittel & Melton can provide you with the aggressive legal representation you need in order to protect your rights. For a free case evaluation, contact us today online or call our Palm Beach County office at 561-367-8777.