New Jersey man accused of trying to hire "cannibal cop" to kidnap woman
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey man was arrested on Friday for offering to pay $5,000 to the so-called "cannibal cop" to kidnap a woman and deliver her to be raped, according to the FBI.
Federal authorities charged Michael Vanhise, 22, with conspiracy to commit kidnapping with Gilberto Valle III, a New York police officer who was arrested in October and charged with conspiring to kidnap, torture, cook and eat women.
In a series of emails in January and February of last year, Vanhise tried to bargain down the kidnapping fee and urged the police officer to "just make sure she doesn't die before I get her," according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Friday.
"No need to worry," Valle replied in an email, prosecutors allege. "She will be alive. It's a short drive to you."
Vanhise admitted to investigators he sent the emails, prosecutors said.
Valle, nicknamed the "cannibal cop" by New York media, was accused of targeting women whose names were discovered in a file on his computer.
No money ever changed hands and prosecutors have not said why the kidnapping plot discussed in February had not materialized by the time Valle was arrested eight months later.
Valle said he was merely engaged in online fantasy role play and pleaded not guilty in November. His trial is set to begin later this month.
Vanhise, a married New Jersey mechanic with two young children, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He appeared briefly in federal magistrate court late Friday in jeans and a black T-shirt. A bail hearing was scheduled for Monday.
His court-appointed attorney, Alice Fontier, said Vanhise has been meeting with federal prosecutors since October, when Valle was arrested.
Valle's attorney, Julia Gatto, attended Vanhise's court appearance as an observer. She asserted outside of court that authorities arrested Vanhise as a "strategic" move to discourage him from testifying in Valle's defense.
"We believe that if he was called as a defense witness" in the Valle trial "his testimony would have exonerated my client," Gatto said. "Now that he has criminal exposure, he would be advised by his attorney not to testify because he could incriminate himself."
But prosecutors on Friday described the case as "bone-chilling" and detailed email exchanges between the pair that they said demonstrated that the men were serious about the kidnapping.
Vanhise was also accused of emailing photos and the home address of a girl from his Hamilton, New Jersey, neighborhood to two unnamed people, according to a criminal complaint, which said Vanhise solicited the girl's kidnapping.
Valle's estranged wife tipped off authorities after she discovered a disturbing file on his computer, a law enforcement official said.
The file, called "Abducting and Cooking: A Blueprint," contained the names and pictures of at least 100 women, and the addresses and physical descriptions of some of them, according to court documents.
Authorities charged last fall that Valle had undertaken surveillance of some of the women at their places of employment and their homes.
Valle was denied bail by a judge who called the charges "profoundly disturbing."
Both men face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.