Ex-Cop Sentenced to Life in Prison for Torture Chamber Conspiracy

Originally published on December 14, 2014, at NationofChange.org

A former Chicago police officer has been sentenced to life in prison for plotting to kidnap, torture, extort, and murder a businessman to acquire his real estate holdings. Steven Manning, who changed his name to Steven Mandell, received a life sentence and the death penalty years ago for kidnapping two drug dealers and murdering a truck company owner, but those convictions were overturned on legal grounds involving the admissibility of evidence at his trials, not because of innocence. Although they cannot prove his guilt, law enforcement officials believe Manning has murdered at least eight people since resigning in disgrace from the Chicago Police Department.

In 1983, Officer Manning was convicted on theft charges involving an auto insurance fraud scheme using luxury cars. After his conviction, Manning resigned from the police department and began working for a drug dealer named Anthony Mammolito. In 1984, Mammolito hired Manning, former Willow Springs police officer Gary Engel, and Thomas McKillip to rob a rival drug dealer named Charles Ford. Posing as federal drug agents, Manning, Engel, and McKillip kidnapped Ford and his associate Mark W. Harris.

Blindfolded, Ford and Harris were held captive for 14 hours until Ford’s sister paid $55,000 for their ransom. The kidnappers released them in a cemetery next to an open grave. Ford and Harris never reported the incident fearing retaliation and a possible investigation into their own illegal activities.

On February 11, 1985, Manning was arrested and later indicted in connection with a jewelry store robbery. Police found Manning outside the store in a car equipped with a telephone and police radio scanner. The jewelry store had been burglarized, and officers suspected Manning was the lookout. At the time of his arrest, police found Manning in possession of a Chicago police badge belonging to Officer William Sorice. Although Officer Sorice had reported his badge stolen, he was also indicted for participating in the robbery.

In 1986, the body of Manning’s father, Boris Manning, was found in the trunk of his car at the Hawthorn Shopping Center. Manning’s father had been beaten, stabbed, shot four times in the head, and wrapped in a scarf, a sleeping bag, and a piece of wire. Eight months later, McKillip’s body was found in the back of his truck at the Buffalo Grove’s Cambridge Commons shopping center. McKillip had been stabbed, shot twice in the head, and wrapped in a towel inside a sleeping bag. Police suspect Manning of committing both murders, but do not have enough evidence to convict him.

“We think he’s involved,” admitted former Vernon Hills Police Chief Gary Kupsak. “Can we prove it? No, not with the evidence we have available.”

While serving a 30-year prison sentence for receiving stolen goods, Mammolito began cooperating with police and federal agents. He admitted to hiring Manning, Engel, and McKillip to rob Ford and accused Manning of murdering his friend, McKillip. Mammolito’s information led to the arrests of Manning and Engel in 1990 for kidnapping Ford and Harris. Convicted in separate trials, Manning received a life sentence while Engel received 90 years in prison.

In 1993, Manning was sentenced to death by lethal injection for the murder of a truck company owner named Jimmy Pellegrino. Missing since May 1990, Pellegrino had been shot in the head during a drug deal. His body was dumped in the Des Plaines River and recovered two months later.

While sitting on death row, Manning’s murder conviction was overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1999. The court ruled that the trial judge had erroneously allowed Pelligrino’s widow to testify that her husband’s last words before leaving their home was that if he ended up dead, Manning was to blame. In 2002, a federal appeals court granted Manning a new trial in his kidnapping case because the FBI had violated Manning’s constitutional right to counsel.

After the charges against Manning were dismissed, he filed a lawsuit against the FBI alleging they had framed him in the kidnapping and murder cases. In 2005, Manning was awarded over $6.5 million in damages, but a federal judge threw out his award a year later.

In February 2010, the Supreme Court of Missouri overturned Engel’s kidnapping conviction because evidence had been withheld during his trial. The state dismissed the charges against him.

After changing his name to Mandell, Manning began conspiring with Engel and a former banker named George Michael to kidnap, torture, extort, and kill strip club owner Anthony Quaranta and real estate mogul Stephen Campbell. Quaranta and his associate Demitri Stavropoulos worked as consultants at the mob-connected PoleKatz Gentleman’s Club. Mandell allegedly devised a plan to rob and kill Quaranta and Stavropoulos after placing a tracking device on a car belonging to Quaranta’s wife.

Mandell also devised a plan to kidnap Campbell by posing as a police officer with a counterfeit arrest warrant. Mandell, Engel, and Michael designed a torture chamber equipped with an industrial sink, butcher table, various saws, a butcher knife, a .22 automatic pistol, and numerous zip-ties to restrain Campbell. Mandell and Engel planned to mutilate Campbell’s penis until he signed over 25 high-revenue buildings unencumbered by mortgages to them. After signing the powers of attorney and quitclaim deed forms, Campbell would have been murdered and his body dismembered to hide the evidence.

Unbeknownst to Mandell and Engel, Michael was working as an FBI informant. Their torture chamber had been rigged with tiny cameras and microphones recording every detail of their sordid plot. In October 2012, Mandell and Engel were arrested for plotting to kidnap, torture, extort, and murder Quaranta and Campbell. While raiding Mandell’s home, FBI agents found over $16,000 stashed away and thousands more in cash in a safe-deposit box at a nearby bank. According to law enforcement officials, Engel killed himself days later by hanging himself in his jail cell with a bed sheet.

Although Mandell was acquitted of plotting to murder Quaranta, he was convicted of conspiracy to kidnap Campbell, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion, possessing a firearm during a violent crime, being a felon-in-possession of a firearm, and obstruction of justice. The obstruction charge stemmed from Mandell calling his wife from jail and asking her to destroy the tracking device that he had placed on Campbell’s car. He was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday without the possibility of parole.

“This was an extremely serious and disturbing offense,” U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve stated while imposing the life sentence. “Your actions in this case, Mr. Mandell, were evil…and showed a complete disregard for human life.”

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