NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A former butler insisted on his innocence and said he's scared to go to jail as he was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison for trying to extort millions of dollars from philanthropist Anne H. Bass, who was injected with what masked intruders claimed was a deadly virus during a night of terror in 2007.
Emanuel Nicolescu, who was convicted in March of attempted extortion and other charges, said at his sentencing hearing that he had no role in the ordeal suffered by Bass and her companion at her western Connecticut estate.
"I am sorry for what they went through but I didn't do it," said Nicolescu, who paused and fought back tears as he spoke at length in federal court in New Haven.
Nicolescu noted that he is only 150 pounds.
"In jail I'm a target for a lot of things," he said, asking for mercy. "I'm scared."
Authorities said the masked men injected Bass and her partner, Julian Lethbridge, and refused to provide an antidote unless they turned over $8.5 million. The injected substance turned out to be harmless, and the intruders fled without the cash.
"This lengthy sentence is appropriate for a defendant who participated in a violent home invasion," said U.S. Attorney David Fein.
Alex Hernandez, an attorney for the victims, said the crime was profound and long-lasting.
"The perpetrators executed this crime with military precision and left no doubt about their intentions," Hernandez said, reading a victim impact statement. "The terror they inflicted was real and was clearly intended to be perceived as such. Anne and Julian believed that each moment could well be their last."
The victims, who did not attend the sentencing, also live in constant fear that others involved in the crime have not been captured. They said they hope Nicolescu will help authorities bring the others to justice.
"To date, he has not accepted any responsibility for what he did, he has expressed no remorse for what took place and he has done absolutely nothing to help bring others to justice," the letter states. "If he should now choose to do so, he will have earned a measure of forgiveness from them."
Nicolescu is the only person who has been arrested for the crime at the estate in Kent, a scenic rural town of about 3,000 residents near New York. He had been fired by Bass for wrecking a car about a year before the crime on April 15, 2007.
Authorities say at least four men were involved, including one outside the house.
The jury did not reach a finding on the role of Nicolescu or the others, so it's unclear whether they believed he was in the home, outside or elsewhere, said his attorney, Gerald McMahon. A prosecutor said the jury did not make special findings as to Nicolescu's role, but authorities have argued they believed he was in the house.
Prosecutors said Nicolescu's DNA was found in a Jeep stolen from the property during the home invasion.
Bass, the former wife of Texas billionaire Sid Bass, testified during the trial that 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.
Nicolescu said the case was devastating to him and his family. His voice breaking, he said he would never hurt anyone and knew such a sum of money could not be obtained, especially at night.
"I don't wish what happened to them on anybody," he said. "There has to be a way I can show the court, the world, everybody I'm not that person."
Nicolescu said he did not receive a fair trial.
His attorney sought a sentence of no more than eight years, saying no one was seriously hurt. McMahon said Nicolescu had no prior criminal record and was described by many as sweet.
Prosecutors sought a sentence of about 25 to 30 years, citing the emotional trauma suffered by the victims, the painful nature of the injections and that Nicolescu was likely a leader of the crime.
Bass also has homes in New York City and Fort Worth, Texas.
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