Algonquin lawyer charged in murder-for-hire scheme
BY DAVE GATHMAN firstname.lastname@example.org August 6, 2011 9:25AM
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:47AM
ALGONQUIN — In a story that sounds like it was adapted from a Hollywood movie, an Algonquin lawyer was arrested outside an Elgin restaurant while allegedly hiring a hitman to kill someone who had information that could ruin his career.
Spokesmen for the U.S. attorney’s office for Northern Illinois and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced Friday that Jason W. Smiekel, 29, was charged with plotting murder for hire after being arrested at the unnamed restaurant along Randall Road Thursday afternoon.
Smiekel is accused of offering $20,000 to kill his girlfriend’s ex-husband. He reportedly had represented the woman in her divorce case. What the young lawyer didn’t know, according to the prosecution’s complaint, was that the man he was offering the money to was an undercover ATF agent.
The charge is a federal crime, according to court documents, because Smiekel used cellphones while plotting the murder and cellphones are an “interstate facility.” Assistant U.S. Attorney John McKenzie said the crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Many questions remained unanswered by federal authorities, including the name of the girlfriend and the proposed victim, what secret information the victim had, and why the case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives instead of the FBI or a local police agency.
According to an affidavit filed in court Friday, the situation came to federal officials’ notice after Smiekel asked a friend to help him find a hitman and that person went to the ATF with an offer to help the feds bring the lawyer to justice.
According to the affidavit, the whistle-blower had known Smiekel for four or five years and knew where he lived, on Sandy Creek Drive in Algonquin. But apparently the whistle-blower did not know him well enough to know what his last name was. Officials would not say whether the whistle-blower was another resident of Smiekel’s neighborhood.
The affidavit states that Smiekel spoke to the whistle-blower on July 27. The young attorney reportedly said he was desperate to have the girlfriend’s ex-husband killed before Friday, July 29, because the man was expected to testify in a court proceeding that day. Smiekel allegedly said that the man was likely to reveal things in court that would ruin his law career and leave Smiekel open to a criminal indictment.
Later, Smiekel reportedly told the whistle-blower that the court appearance had been postponed a week, to Friday, Aug. 5, but the ex-husband had to be killed before then. He said he would pay someone up to $25,000 to do the deed.
On July 30, the affidavit states, the whistle-blower instead met with two ATF agents. They equipped the man with a hidden recording device and he met again with Smiekel on July 31. This time he told Smiekel he could recommend a man named Chris who could do the job.
Chris, who actually was ATF agent Chris Bayless, then allegedly met with Smiekel on Aug. 1 in person and on Aug. 2 by phone, with both meetings being secretly recorded. The two allegedly agreed to have Smiekel pay Chris $20,000 to kill the man, and Chris said he would make the death seem to be the result of a robbery.
Prosecutors said the murder was scheduled for about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, at a site they would not reveal. At 4:17, Chris and Smiekel rendezvoused in the parking lot of the Elgin restaurant and got into Chris’s car. Smiekel allegedly then gave Chris an envelope containing $7,000 cash, as a down payment for his services. Chris then gave a signal telling other ATF agents- they should converge on the car and make the arrest.
According to the affidavit, Smiekel told the whistle-blower and Chris that he also had tried to arrange a paid “hit” on the ex-husband back in February. He said he had paid two men $8,000 as a down payment but they had shafted him by “taking off” with the money and never committing the murder.
Prosecutors said that as a lawyer, Smiekel had represented the victim’s ex-wife in her divorce case against the victim.
Friday morning, a federal judge in Rockford ordered Smiekel held without bond until a hearing Wednesday afternoon. Prosecutor McKenzie said his office will ask that Smiekel continue to be held without bond, but he would not explain why.