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Former escort found guilty of attempted hit man hire

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/16/2017 By TERRY SPENCER, Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A former escort was convicted Friday of trying to hire a hit man to kill her newlywed husband to get control of his money and their town house.

Dalia Dippolito teared up as she turned to look at her sobbing family when the jury announced its verdict after deliberating for only an hour and a half. She faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced July 21. Judge Glenn Kelley ordered her held without bail.

This was the third trial for Dippolito. A 2011 conviction and 20-year sentence were thrown out on appeal. A 2016 trial ended with a 3-3 hung jury.

Dippolito, 34, was arrested in 2009 after she was videotaped soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a hit man.

Prosecutor Laura Laurie told jurors during closing arguments that Dippolito was a liar and manipulator who used two lovers to get her husband, convicted conman Michael Dippolito, either sent back to prison or killed, all because she wanted his money and their house.

Defense attorney Brian Claypool countered that it was Boynton Beach police who manipulated Dippolito and their informant so that detectives could become famous through the television show "Cops," which filmed much of the investigation and turned it into a special episode.

"You will find no question that that woman lied and manipulated for her own gain," Laurie told the three-woman, three-man jury during her closing arguments. "She couldn't stand her husband, so just kill him."

Claypool told the jury that Boynton Beach detectives pursued fame, not justice, during their investigation in the summer of 2009. They manipulated the case by violating their own department's rules, lying and playing to the "Cops" cameras, Claypool said.

"They had no desire to solve the crime," Claypool said. "Get her on tape for the whole world to see. ... Does that sound like a police department looking to get justice in this case, one that's determined to stop her from blowing her husband's brains out?"

Last year, prosecutors focused heavily on a 23-minute video in which Dippolito tells undercover officer Widy Jean, who was portraying a hit man, she was "5,000 percent sure" she wanted her husband dead and appeared to agree to pay $7,000. She also discussed various plots before Jean said he would kill her husband at the couple's home, making it look like a botched burglary while she was at the gym.

This time, while the tape remained a key piece of their evidence, prosecutors also called Michael Dippolito, who testified that his now ex-wife stole $100,000 from him shortly after they got married in February 2009. He also said someone twice planted drugs in his SUV and called police, which could have landed him back in prison for violating his probation. He thinks it was his wife. He has said previously he met his wife when he hired her for sex. He soon divorced another woman and married her.

According to The Palm Beach Post, prosecutors also read for the jury X-rated text messages Dalia Dippolito exchanged with a now-deceased lover, Mike Stanley, in 2009 after she got married. She had Stanley impersonate a doctor, to help her hide the $100,000 theft, and later a lawyer, to make her husband wrongly think he had completed probation, prosecutors said, adding that she hoped that if her husband stopped visiting his probation officer, he would be found in violation. In one text message, she rejoiced after persuading her husband to put their town house in her name only; in another, she complained after learning she still couldn't sell it without his signature.

Prosecutors also showed video of her interview with detectives at the police station after being made to believe her husband had been killed. She volunteered potential killers, including her husband's former crime partners, and denied knowing Jean when he was brought before her in handcuffs as the killer.

Defense attorneys in their case struck hard at the investigation, accusing the Boynton Beach police of playing to the "Cops" cameras in hopes of becoming famous, rather than doing a professional and thorough investigation. They criticized the department for posting on YouTube minutes after her arrest video of Dippolito being told falsely her husband was dead.

Former Boynton Beach Sgt. Frank Ranzie testified for the defense, saying that as a detective on the case, he had opposed "Cops" filming the investigation because cameras make people, including police officers, behave differently. He also said his supervisors refused to delay a key meeting between Dippolito and their confidential informant, her sometimes lover Mohammed Shihadeh, minutes before her rendezvous with Jean when Shihadeh's recording device failed. He called that a major gap in the investigation.

Shihadeh, also testifying for the defense, said he only wanted police to call Dalia Dippolito, not arrest her. He said she told him she was being abused. He said detectives threatened him with arrest when he said he wanted out of their investigation, which would be a violation of department rules.

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