Ex-cop’s words in torture-chamber recording could undermine family’s lawsuit

Written By BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter Posted: 03/27/2014, 06:41am
Array Steve Mandell | Photo provided by U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago

Even in death, Gary Engel’s words could come back to haunt his family.

In secretly recorded videos played to a jury in federal court last week, the former Willow Springs cop presented himself as a sadistic and experienced killer, even joking how he’d slice a victim’s genitals like a “banana split.”

The recordings were part of the prosecution’s high-profile case against Engel’s partner-in-crime, Steven Mandell.

If Engel hadn’t committed suicide in jail soon after he and Mandell were arrested — just moments before their grisly kidnap, torture and murder plot was to happen in October 2012 — he’d have been sitting next to Mandell in court when a jury convicted Mandell Friday night.

But that hasn’t stopped Engel’s family from pressing ahead with a big-money civil rights lawsuit that alleges FBI agents framed him for a remarkably similar alleged kidnapping back in the 1980s.

Now, video played during Mandell’s trial, of Mandell and Engel discussing that 1984 crime inside the torture chamber they built two years ago on the Northwest Side, proves Engel was also guilty of the earlier crime all along, the U.S. Attorney’s office says.

The video was filmed with a hidden FBI camera on Oct. 24, 2012, the day before Mandell and Engel planned to kidnap, torture and kill Riverside businessman Steve Campbell, and seems to show Mandell and Engel drawing a direct parallel to the 1984 kidnapping.

In it, they discuss Anthony Mammolito, a key prosecution witness who helped convict both men of the 1984 kidnapping of Missouri businessmen Charles Ford and Mark Harris by testifying he was their accomplice.

“Remember Mammolito?” Mandell says in the video. “Participated, he didn’t know half the s—.”

“Yeah,” Engel replies.

In a recent court filing, government lawyers called that a “candid admission about participating in a kidnapping with Mammolito.”

But the lawyer for Engel’s family, Jon Loevy, disagreed, saying there was no confession and angrily suggesting that government lawyers should be “ashamed of themselves” for arguing otherwise.

Convicted in 1991 of teaming up with Mandell to kidnap Ford and Harris, Engel served 19 years of a 90-year sentence before both he and Mandell were released on appeal.

Mandell — also represented by Loevy — went on to win a $6 million civil jury verdict against the FBI agents he said had framed him for that kidnapping and the 1990 murder of Engel’s former brother-in-law, James Pellegrino, but never got a penny of it after a federal judge overruled the jury’s verdict.

Engel’s family is trying to succeed where Mandell failed, by suing the same FBI agents.

Evidence at Mandell’s trial last week suggested that Mandell’s connection to Loevy’s law firm went beyond a typical attorney-client relationship.

Mandell testified that he worked in 2012 as an unpaid process server at Loevy & Loevy, where he said attorneys let him use their computer passwords to research the enemies of the government’s key witness in his most recent trial.

Prosecutors suggested that Mandell — who has a prior conviction for burglary, and had burglary tools in his car when he was arrested in 2012 — was actually sizing up potential break-in targets when he looked up the wealthy men using Loevy & Loevy’s computers, but Mandell denied that.

Loevy, whose firm is well known for winning large verdicts in lawsuits involving law enforcement misconduct, did not respond to requests for comment this week.

A trial date for the lawsuit brought by Engel’s family has yet to be set.

Email: kjanssen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @kimjnews

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