I-Team

Ex-cops planned to extort, butcher wealthy businessman, feds say

Friday, October 26, 2012

The federal charges read like a failed TV plot. Two aged, washed-up ex-cops plot to abduct a wealthy businessman they have dubbed ''Soupy Sales,'' the slapstick TV man circa 1960s

The suspects, using bogus cop credentials according to federal agents, would lure the man to "Club Med," actually just a nearby office. There they would steal his money and then get rid of him by draining his blood and butchering the remains.

Federal authorities in Chicago on Friday say they cancelled the grisly plot before it could become a real-life hit.

Prosecutors named Steven Mandell, 61, of Buffalo Grove, and Gary Engel, 61, of Homer Glen, in a criminal complaint alleging attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion.

For both suspects, it is a command performance.

Mandell, aka Steve Manning, a Chicago police officer for a decade until 1983, had been sentenced to death for murder and kidnapping but his case was overturned in 1998. Engel is a one-time police officer in Willow Springs-a southwest suburban village that has a rich history of official misconduct.

On undercover audio and video recordings, authorities say Mandell is heard speculating the unnamed victim generated as much as $100,000 a month in cash from rental properties. Prosecutors believe the two suspects were intent on stealing at least $500,000 from the would-be tycoon.

The plot was about to reach a crescendo say federal agents. Mandell had allegedly arranged to outfit their "Club Med" site with a large deep sink, a long counter and a shower, according to federal officers.

When Mandell and Engel were arrested Thursday evening on the Northwest Side they had handcuffs, a fake arrest document that appeared to name the victim as a criminal defendant, a loaded .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol and additional ammunition, as well as saws and a butcher knife.

From the court records it is clear that investigators depended on another person, identified only as Individual A, working in an undercover role.

In one recorded conversation, authorities say Mandell suggested to Individual A that they were adept at waterboarding, interrogation, psy-ops," and other kinds of military torture. The plot included a vivid description of how they would use the Club Med countertop to dissect the victim and drain his blood down the sink before chopping up the body.

Mandell's history as a bad cop, burglar, drug dealer and killer is well-documented. So is his propensity for having charges thrown out and then filing wrongful prosecution lawsuits.

In 1993, Mandell was convicted of murdering trucking firm owner Jimmy Pellegrino.

He was sentenced to death. After being convicted in a separate kidnapping case in Missouri, the convictions were overturned. No retrials were held. Mandell sued the federal agents on his case alleging they framed him. He claimed the FBI went after him because he wouldn't help them by working as an undercover informant.

He won a $6.5 million judgment -- but the civil award was overturned and Mandell never collected a dime.

Mandell has been connected to one bizarre episode after another the past 30 years-yet has eventually ended up a free man. Among the oddities in Mandell's past: his own father was murdered. That case, as with many involving the mysterious ex-cop, remains officially unsolved.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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