U.S. officials still investigating Bali suitcase murder

U.S. officials still investigating Bali suitcase murder

A foreign trial in the murder of a wealthy Chicago woman on the island of Bali ended in prison terms for her daughter and the teen’s boyfriend, but a separate investigation into potential federal crimes continues one year after the victim’s body was found in a suitcase outside a posh resort.

Federal authorities flew Indonesian law enforcement officials to Chicago at least twice in recent months to answer questions as part of the ongoing investigation, the Tribune has learned. The focus of the probe, however, remains less clear.

According to a search warrant and affidavit filed last October and recently made public, the Aug. 12, 2014, slaying of Sheila von Wiese-Mack prompted an initial federal investigation into possible charges related to the foreign murder of a United States national.

The young couple was convicted in separate Indonesian proceedings in April. But, besides the murder itself, the victim’s family has long questioned whether the daughter’s $1.56 million trust fund might have been accessed to illegally bribe Indonesian officials during the criminal proceedings.

A Cook County judge overseeing the trust fund case allowed about $150,000 to be wired in increments to the daughter’s overseas criminal attorney. But, amid repeated questions about the legal bills and after she had been found guilty, the judge balked at a demand in May for another $200,000 in one lump sum to pay for legal costs related to the appeal.

Heather Mack, 19, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for assisting with her mother’s murder. The teen’s boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, 22, formerly of Oak Park, received an 18-year term. The couple had a baby girl in March. Stella may remain in prison with Mack per Indonesian custom until the child’s second birthday.

The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago declined to comment. Chicago attorney Thomas Durkin, who is representing Schaefer in the federal case, also declined to provide further details.

A complicating factor in the case is the lack of an extradition treaty between the United States and Indonesia, said Stephen Vladeck, a professor at American University Washington College of Law and an expert on international criminal law.

“In the absence of a treaty, a lot of it comes down to politics, rather than law,” he said. “And so the real question is going to be just how much pressure the U.S. government wants to bring to bear on the Indonesian authorities.”

The victim was the widow of James L. Mack, a Chicago jazz and classical composer who died in 2006 at age 76. Heather Mack was their only child, though the musician had five other children from his first marriage.

The mother and daughter had a troubled relationship. Police reported 86 calls for assistance to their former home in Oak Park, including one altercation that resulted in the older woman suffering a broken arm, according to public records. Hoping for a fresh start, von Wiese-Mack moved with her daughter in 2013 to a high-rise Chicago condo overlooking the lakefront.

They arrived in Bali for vacation Aug. 4, 2014. Unbeknownst to the victim, Schaefer followed them to the resort. His flight, which cost more than $12,000, and room were booked using her credit card. Von Wiese-Mack was dead within hours of his arrival. After the couple was arrested that next morning at a nearby budget motel, Mack claimed kidnappers killed her mother but that they had escaped.

Federal officials said Mack also had told the kidnapping story to a doorman at her mother’s Chicago condo when she called from overseas to ask if anyone “weird” had stopped by. When the doorman asked whether they were on vacation, Mack responded, “We are in Zimbabwe and we have been kidnapped,” according to the federal affidavit.

News of the murder garnered international headlines, and an ensuing indictment revealed that Mack in text messages to Schaefer had allegedly asked him before leaving for Bali to hire a hit man for $50,000 to kill her mother.

The FBI, which has an office in the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, was involved in the murder investigation from the onset. Besides ensuring that the victim’s remains were flown back to the United States, federal agents assisted Bali police with technical support related to texts and emails on phones and computers that belonged to the victim and defendants.

In the recently unsealed court document that sought a judge’s permission to search data from an iPhone and MacBook, Heather Mack is alleged to have made a reference to the hit man request in a private, typo-riddled message to Schaefer on Facebook.

“Can you not tell people I asked you to kill my mom,” she wrote May 26, 2014, according to the federal document. “Cause i was so (expletive) up tommy and i really didnt mean it. Ive been regretting ever saying that so much and ive paid for it, shes almpst died like 5 times and ive been so petrified and scared.”

Two weeks earlier, von Wiese-Mack had confronted her daughter about money missing from her checking account. In a series of emails to her friend, who later provided them to the Tribune, von Wiese-Mack wrote that she feared what her daughter might do next.

“I am truly afraid of her,” she wrote May 12, 2014, later adding: “I simply cannot afford to let my guard down for a moment with her. She will stop at nothing to get at my money.”

Fights over money were constant, records showed. According to the federal document, Schaefer told someone identified only as Individual B that Mack was a “millionaire,” and agreed to support him financially, and that “Mack’s money was (Schaefer’s) money.”

On July 25, 2014, two days after the couple were found partying at a Chicago hotel in a room paid for with von Wiese-Mack’s credit card, Schaefer sent Mack a Facebook message that said, “(Expletive) your mom just take your money take that (expletive) to court and leave her on the street with 30%.”

That next day, Schaefer wrote: “Your (mother) doesn’t want you to realize that you’re 18 and can do whatever you want now. According to the will, you can do what’s called an emancipation which is saying that you do not belong to your mother anymore … When you do that, whatever the will says from your dad is yours … So you mom is freaking out … Cause you have the power … She’s trying to contain you (now) more than ever.”

Three months before her death, von Wiese-Mack named her daughter the sole beneficiary of the trust fund. But she tapped her attorney brother to be the trustee until her daughter’s 30th birthday. He has raised repeated bribery concerns.

Lawyers in the trust fund case return to court in October. They are expected to meet with a mediator before then to try to come to agreement on Mack’s access to the money.

Source : Chicago Tribune

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