A former Chicago officer who was once on death row will take the stand in his own defense, jurors were promised by a defense attorney Monday as the trial against Steven Mandell began.
Mandell, who served on the Chicago Police Department from 1973 to 1983, stands accused in a number of extortion plots, including one where he and another man planned to abduct a businessman and turn his private parts into a "banana split."
A jury of nine women and three men will hear the case against Mandell, 62, in a trial that's expected to last about two weeks. Judge Amy St. Eve warned jurors on Monday not to do any of their own research on any of the colorful cast of characters involved in the case.
Prosecutors said on the eve of the trial that North Shore real estate mogul and former bank owner George Michael would be their first witness. Michael secretly recorded Mandell as he and another man, Gary Engel, a former Willow Springs police officer, allegedly plotted to torture and kill a victim in a purpose-built killing chamber they called "Club Med" after they forced the victim to turn over some of his real estate.
"You going to put a little blade there?" Mandell asked, according to released transcripts of the October 2012 recordings.
"It’s like slicing a banana split. You know what a banana split looks like?" Engel replied.
Mandell and Engel were arrested shortly after the recording was made and just before carrying out their plan. They were charged with attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. Engel hanged himself in prison the following month.
According to the criminal complaint, the agents found a loaded .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol, ammunition, saws, a butcher knife and zip-ties for possible use as restraints at the location where the defendants allegedly planned to carry out the actions.
In a new indictment filed in March 2013, Mandell was charged with conspiring to kill an heir of the businessman if that person made a claim on the businessman's properties after his death. Mandell also plotted the killing of another victim in exchange for a cut of the proceeds from a strip club, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing authorities. Shortly after the arrest, Mandell called his wife from the jail and asked her to get rid of evidence in the case, the indictment alleged.
Mandell, who has previously served more than 14 years behind bars for multiple convictions, is suspected of at least half-a-dozen murders over the years and was sentenced to death for a 1990 slaying, only to have his conviction overturned on appeal. He won a $6.5 million civil case for wrongful conviction against the FBI in 2005, only to see that verdict quashed, too.
Michael for years falsely claimed his lakefront Lake Bluff mansion was a church in order to dodge taxes, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. He and his brother Robert -- who’s facing mortgage fraud charges in a separate case -- were booted out of the banking industry in 2012 after court cases revealed their sketchy business practices.
Until he was arrested, Mandell lived with his 82-year old wife, whom he married in 2007, the Chicago Tribune reported.