Former death row inmate put on special restrictions in federal Loop jail

Former death row inmate Steven Mandell has been placed under restrictive custody measures usually reserved for mobsters and terrorists while he awaits sentencing for plotting to torture, murder and dismember a suburban businessman, federal prosecutors revealed in a court filing last week.

The “special administrative measures” imposed on Mandell early this month at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago show how dangerous authorities still consider Mandell even though he’s been kept in solitary confinement for most of the time since his arrest nearly two years ago.

The special measures, referred to as SAMs, typically bar an inmate from access to telephones or the prison email system and restricts visitors to immediate family, attorneys or clergy. All visits can be monitored by prison officials.

The extraordinary measures were first imposed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on accused terrorists being held in U.S. custody. Only the U.S. Attorney General’s Office can authorize the restrictions if “a substantial risk that an inmate’s communications with third parties may result in death or serious bodily injury to others,” according to the prosecution filing.

Inmates currently held under SAMs include convicted Outfit boss Joey “the Clown” Lombardo, white supremacist Matthew Hale and convicted 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui. In 2011, imprisoned mobster Frank Calabrese allegedly passed instructions hidden in religious reading materials through the food slot of his cell to one of his only allowed visitors -- a Roman Catholic priest who was there to give him Communion. Calabrese died in 2012.

A former Chicago police officer, Mandell, 63, was suspected in at least five unsolved murders, including the 1986 killing of his own father, Boris, according to court records. He was sent to death row for the drug-related 1990 slaying of a trucking firm owner, but the conviction was overturned and he later sued the FBI for framing him.

Mandell was convicted in February on charges that he plotted to kidnap, torture, kill and dismember Riverside landlord Steven Campbell. He faces life in prison at his sentencing scheduled for June 30.

Last year, prosecutors accused Mandell of trying to solicit the murder of the key government informant in the torture plot after he was moved into the general population at the federal Loop jail. In recent weeks, Mandell has written numerous letters to police departments, state’s attorney’s offices and other law enforcement agencies, some of which included materials that were under seal by court order, prosecutors have said.

Among the letters was one Mandell sent to the Highland Park police. While details of that letter weren't revealed in court, Highland Park was the site of a 2012 fire that killed restaurateur Giacomo Ruggirello. The blaze was labeled a possible arson, and last year Mandell's lawyers mysteriously subpoenaed records about the investigation in advance of his trial.

The recent filing by prosecutors revealed that Mandell sent the Highland Park letter on March 20 and included dates of FBI undercover recorded conversations, the contents of those recordings “and their bearing on an uncharged crime.”

Mandell also sent an April 4 letter to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve claiming prosecutors were conjuring up a false picture of him as a dangerous threat to keep him in solitary confinement.

Prosecutors wrote in their filing Thursday that Mandell’s “narrative is inaccurate.”

jmeisner@tribune.com

Twitter: @jmetr22b