They flashed badges, slapped handcuffs on their victims’ wrists and duct-taped their eyes and mouths shut.
They ambushed the two drug dealers one night in Kansas City, Missouri, 31 years ago. They cried “DEA,” threatened to blow the men’s heads off and tossed them in the back of what looked like an unmarked police car, a government lawyer said Monday. The two victims would then spend 14 hours tied up in a safe house until their kidnappers were finally paid a ransom.
Gary Engel, a now-deceased former Willow Springs police officer, would eventually spend 19 years in prison for that 1984 kidnapping. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 2010. Now Engel’s son, Daniel, is suing retired FBI agent Robert Buchan, portraying Engel as an innocent man framed by Buchan for the kidnapping.
As the federal civil trial kicked off Monday in Chicago, though, U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Leah Taylor didn’t quibble over Engel’s guilt in the decades-old case.
“We don’t have to prove that Engel is guilty,” Taylor said. “But he is.”
Taylor and Engel family lawyer Jon Loevy transported jurors back to the late 1980s and early 1990s in their opening statements Monday. What jurors likely won’t hear as this trial plays out is how Engel’s life ultimately ended: He hanged himself in 2012 after his arrest with Steve Mandell, an Outfit-connected ex-Chicago cop.
Together, they’d been accused of a gruesome plot to torture and kill a Riverside businessman in a Northwest Side torture chamber dubbed “Club Med.” First, they planned to kidnap him while posing as law enforcement officers.
Mandell was sentenced last year after a sensational trial to life plus five years for the events of 2012. But he also plays a central role in the new civil trial pursued by Engel’s family.
Loevy contends Engel was “railroaded” in the 1980s during a law enforcement crusade to imprison Mandell, known then as Steve Manning. Mandell, a “criminal mastermind” and one-time FBI informant, helped imprison a man named Anthony Mammolito, Loevy said. In turn, Mammolito implicated Mandell and Engel in the 1984 kidnapping. Engel would be convicted in 1991.
But Loevy said Buchan fed information to witnesses to build his case against Engel. Buchan wanted to put pressure on Engel to flip on Mandell, Loevy contends. He also said Mammolito struck a secret deal with law enforcement officials. Buffalo Grove sent Mammolito’s mother $500 after Engel’s prosecution, court records allege.
Taylor said Buchan knew nothing about an agreement to pay Mammolito after his testimony. She also said Engel had a fair trial, and she said investigators gathered “credible evidence” that Engel really did participate in the 1984 crime.
Among the evidence found in Engel’s home was one item Loevy told jurors was “proof of nothing.”
It was a book called, “How to Rip Off a Drug Dealer.”