UPDATE: Clement Robert Mercaldo’s co-conspirator, Stepfen Gerard Gaither, has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.
Original story below…
BALTIMORE, MD—A Baltimore County man has pleaded guilty to federal charges of murder-for-hire conspiracy and interstate communications with intent to extort.
Clement Robert Mercaldo, Jr., 62, of Timonium, pleaded guilty on Friday in connection to the extortion and planned murder of a Baltimore County restaurant owner and his partner over a debt.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; and Chief Melissa R. Hyatt of the Baltimore County Police Department.
According to his plea agreement and other court documents, Mercaldo loaned more than $1 million to a Baltimore County restaurant owner. When the restaurant owner was unable to make the monthly payments, Mercaldo hired a co-conspirator to send messages threatening victims and their families in order to extort money. During the course of the plots, Mercaldo paid the co-conspirator to vandalize a victim’s car and set fire to a victim’s house as part of the plot to extort. Later, Mercaldo agreed to pay the co-conspirator to murder one of the victims.
“Clement Mercaldo hired someone to extort and threaten victims who owed him money, including setting fire to the house where a victim and his family were sleeping and attempting to murder them. The defendant then went to great lengths to conceal his role from investigators and tried to subvert justice by falsely claiming that he was a victim, too,” said Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner. “This successful prosecution is another example of how our Maryland law enforcement team will never give up in holding accountable criminals like Clement Mercaldo.”
Between 2008 and 2017, Mercaldo, a former restaurant owner, loaned over $1 million to the victim. The victim repaid Mercaldo until 2019, when he was unable to make further payments. As a result, Mercaldo was in significant financial distress, causing him to sell personal belongings in order to continue to pay his expenses.
Beginning in March 2019, Mercaldo hired a co-conspirator to assist in his plot to collect the debt through a variety of extortionate means. Mercaldo gave at least $1,000 in cash to the co-conspirator in exchange for the co-conspirator agreeing to send threatening messages to the victim and destroy the victim’s property, with the intent to pressure the victim to repay Mercaldo.
According to Mercaldo’s plea agreement, between March 28 and 29, 2019, the co-conspirator smashed the windows of the victim’s car in his driveway. Immediately before and after the windows were smashed, the co-conspirator used an anonymous texting application to threaten the victim. The messages referenced a debt and threatened the victim’s wife. In the first few days of April 2019, the co-conspirator also placed calls to the victim in which he took responsibility for smashing the windows and then threatened the victim’s wife.
In order to conceal his role in the extortion, Mercaldo traveled to Florida just prior to March 28, 2019, returning on March 29th, when he supplied the co-conspirator with another cash payment. On April 10, 2019, at Mercaldo’s request, the co-conspirator, using the same number used to contact the victim, sent Mercaldo a message falsely purporting to be from a person from Delaware who was trying to collect money and threatening Mercaldo’s son. Mercaldo asked the co-conspirator to send this message so that Mercaldo could show it to the police when he was questioned about the victim’s smashed windows and other threats.
On April 12, 2019, Mercaldo was interviewed by a detective from the Baltimore County Police Department, regarding the destruction of property at the victim’s residence. Mercaldo falsely told the detective that he too had been receiving threatening messages from a person identifying themselves as “Robin.” Mercaldo then showed the detective the fake message the co-conspirator sent him two days earlier, which included a screen shot of Mercaldo’s son playing lacrosse at his high school. Mercaldo also provided detectives with a false story about his loan to the victim, claiming that he obtained the money he loaned the victim from an unnamed person in Michigan, who loaned the money to Mercaldo at a high interest rate, and that Mercaldo pays this person in cash on the first of the month after receiving an anonymous text message providing the location to meet for the transaction. Additionally, Mercaldo told the detective that he returned home from Florida on March 29, 2019 to find that the windshield of his Mercedes was also smashed, although he did not report it to the police. Mercaldo stated that he believed that the smashing of his windshield was related to the smashing of the victim’s windshield. In truth, Mercaldo’s windshield was damaged by a rock from another car and was repaired on March 14, 2019, two weeks prior to the vandalism of the victim’s car.
From April 2019 through July 2019, Mercaldo withdrew significant amounts of cash from his bank account, which he paid to the co-conspirator. For example, on April 26, 2019, May 7, 2019, and May 15, 2019, Mercaldo withdrew a total of $4,000 cash from his bank account in Maryland, and between May 3rd and July 19th, the co-conspirator deposited $2,514 into his account. The purpose of the payments was for the co-conspirator to set fire to the victim’s home.
At Mercaldo’s direction, in the early morning hours of Sunday, August 4, 2019, the co-conspirator set fire to the victim’s house. While the victim and his wife were asleep upstairs, the co-conspirator broke a rear basement window at the house and ignited a flammable liquid. The victim and his wife were awoken by the smoke detectors, and escaped the fire with the family cat. Although no injuries were sustained to the family or emergency responders, the fire caused significant damage to the residence and destroyed much of the victim’s personal property. As a result of the damage, the victim and his wife were forced to move out of their home and to live elsewhere. In the days immediately following the arson, Mercado withdrew $1,500 cash from his bank account and gave it to the co-conspirator, who deposited $1,290 in cash into his account.
In August and September 2019, the co-conspirator sent numerous threatening text messages from anonymous texting applications to the victim and his business partner. The messages demonstrated that they were being followed. The threats referenced a debt, and many of the messages threatened to harm the victims and their families. Mercaldo continued to instruct the co-conspirator to send threatening messages and on October 22, 2019, the business partner received the message, “This is the third check you and your partner gave me that bounce i talked to him and he gave me your address saying you is stealing from him and do what i have to do to get my money from you he even gave me pictures of your wife and kids.”
On October 26, 2019, the co-conspirator arranged to receive a cash payment from the business partner using the anonymous texting application. The payment was observed and recorded by law enforcement. Immediately after receiving the money, the co-conspirator purchased an Apple watch, and deposited cash onto his account. The co-conspirator and Mercaldo subsequently exchanged text messages for several days about this payment, with Mercaldo stating that the victims told him a payment was made to the co-conspirator and the co-conspirator repeatedly denying receiving any money from the victims.
Starting on October 29, 2019, and continuing through at least the end of January 2020, Mercaldo and the co-conspirator began discussing “plan b” – the murder of one or both of the victims for their lack of payment. For example, on November 3, 2019 Mercaldo sent a text to the co-conspirator, “Hope you whack his ass !” On November 8, 2019, Mercaldo texted the co-conspirator, “Nail em plz !!” In January 2020, the co-conspirator conducted surveillance at the residences and business of the victims, taking images and videos and during some of the videos, he narrated how he planned to follow and attack the victim. During two of the videos the co-conspirator is seen holding two different handguns in his vehicle during the surveillance. The co-conspirator sent these videos and images to Mercaldo as attachments to numerous text messages, during, and immediately after, many of the incidents of surveillance. Mercaldo and the co-conspirator continued to communicate about the victims and the debt through March 2020 and as late as May 30, 2020.
Mercaldo was arrested on June 23, 2020 and remains detained.
The arson at the victim’s residence in August 2019 caused an estimated $302,774.89 of damage to the dwelling and contents, and a loss to the insurance company of $353,340.66 as a direct result of the fire.
Mercaldo faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for the murder-for-hire conspiracy and a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for interstate communications with intent to extort. U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander has scheduled sentencing for September 28, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.