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Butler convicted of bid to extort $8.5M from Conn. philanthropist with fake-virus injection
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) ' A former butler charged with trying to extort millions of dollars from his one-time employer, philanthropist Anne H. Bass, during an hours-long ordeal in which she and a companion were held hostage on her estate and were injected with what masked intruders claimed was a deadly virus was found guilty on Thursday.
The butler, Emanuel Nicolescu, had been fired by Bass for wrecking a car weeks before three men broke into her house in the hills of western Connecticut on April 15, 2007.
Authorities said the masked intruders injected Bass and her partner, Julian Lethbridge, and refused to provide an antidote unless they turned over $8.5 million. The substance turned out to be harmless.
Nicolescu is the only person who has been arrested for the crime at the estate in Kent, a town of about 3,000 residents near New York. A federal jury in New Haven found him guilty of attempted extortion and other charges on its first day of deliberations.
Bass spokesman Allan Mayer said Bass and Lethbridge "are grateful for the authorities' ongoing commitment to solving the case, and they remain hopeful that everybody responsible for this crime will eventually be brought to justice."
Nicolescu's attorneys, who did not call any witnesses, have said their client did not participate in the crime.
"Our client is devastated by the verdict," attorney Bruce Koffsky said. "From Day 1 he indicated a lack of involvement in this horrific crime."
Nicolescu is scheduled to be sentenced June 14 and faces up to 50 years in prison. Koffsky said he plans an appeal.
Bass, the 70-year-old former wife of Texas billionaire Sid Bass, testified Tuesday she was certain she would die during the crime. She said she heard "war cries" from men dressed in black who threw her to the floor, tied her up and talked about whether to kidnap her 3-year-old grandson.
She said she told the men the boy would be terrified to see them dressed in black.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about my children and how horrible it was going to be for them because I was sure I was going to die," said Bass, whose grandson was unharmed.
Bass said the men taunted her when she requested water, asking if she would prefer wine or champagne instead.
Lethbridge testified last week that the six-hour ordeal began as he was falling asleep in a sitting room and was startled by a crashing sound. He said he then heard the sound of heavy feet rushing up the stairs and what sounded like a "war cry sound."
Prosecutors say Nicolescu's DNA was found in a Jeep stolen from the property during the home invasion.
Bass also has homes in New York City and Fort Worth, Texas.