Ex-Chicago cop to take stand in own defense in murder plot trial

Written By BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter Posted: 03/12/2014, 06:25am
Array Steve Mandell leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in 2005 with his attorney Jon Loevy. | Sun-Times Media file photo

Former Chicago cop Steve Mandell is expected to take the stand in his own defense to combat charges he plotted to kill the owner of an Outfit-connected strip club and torture and murder another businessman.

The revelation came as jurors heard opening statements Tuesday in the trial of Mandell in federal court in Chicago.

Mandell, 62, and the key government witness who helped set him up are due to face each other across a packed courtroom Tuesday. It’s likely to be one of the wildest federal court cases Chicago has seen in years.

Generally, a defendant taking the stand is considered a risky legal gamble, but Mandell’s defense will somehow have to explain away secretly recorded conversations in which prosecutors say Mandell is heard plotting torture and murder. Mandell’s defense says Mandell meant none of it; he was engaged only in a con.

Prosecutors revealed on Monday that George Michael will be one of the first witnesses to testify in what’s expected to be a two-week trial. Michael, a North Shore real estate mogul and former bank owner, secretly recorded Mandell as he allegedly plotted to torture and kill a victim in a purpose-built killing chamber he called “Club Med.”

A jury of nine women and three men selected Monday was warned by Judge Amy St. Eve not to do any of their own research on any of the colorful cast of characters involved in the case.

Mandell and Michael’s life stories alone could each fill a book.

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. 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.

The intense stakes mean Michael’s testimony is likely to bring high drama — and low comedy.

According to court filings, in one secretly recorded conversation, Mandell and an accomplice allegedly described how they planned to turn the strip club owner’s private parts into a “banana split.”

Twitter: @kimjnews

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

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