Family members of Dan Markel’s ex-wife are implicated in a murder-for-hire scheme that ended in the legal scholar’s July 2014 killing.
An arrest affidavit unexpectedly unsealed Thursday points to Wendi Adelson’s brother Charlie Adelson, a Ft. Lauderdale cosmetic dentist, and her mother Donna Adelson, who works at the family’s practice. Investigators say the motive for the murder “stemmed from the desperate desire of the Adelson family” that Wendi and the couple’s two young sons be allowed to move to South Florida.
The information tying the family to the killing is described under the title “Motive for Murder” in the arrest affidavit for 34-year-old Sigfredo Garcia, arrested last week in the shooting of the Florida State University law professor at his Betton Hills home.
The charging document also notes an upcoming court hearing that might have forbidden Wendi Adelson’s mother from having unsupervised time with the children.
Investigators found emails showing Wendi Adelson’s parents, particularly her mother, wanted her daughter to “coerce” Markel into allowing the boys’ move. The correspondence also suggested Charles Adelson didn’t like his ex-brother-in-law and the two did not get along.
At a Thursday news conference, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo stopped short of calling members of the Adelson family formal suspects in the broad-daylight killing in the garage of Markel’s Trescott Drive home. But said more arrests are expected. He confirmed the couple’s contentious divorce was “a motivating factor in this murder.”
Wendi Adelson, a former FSU law professor who officially left the faculty in January 2015 and now works for a federal appeals court judge in Miami, did not respond to an email request for comment.
Charles Adelson did not return repeated calls to the dentistry practice, the Adelson Institute, which he shares with his father.
DeLeo would not elaborate on whether any of the Adelsons are under surveillance or if they have been interviewed. The probable cause report does not say whether family members have been questioned. When asked if he knew their whereabouts, DeLeo replied with a smirk: “We aren’t on speaking terms.”
Garcia, who was arrested May 25 at a Hallandale Beach Exxon gas station, maintains his innocence. He told investigators, who questioned him in Miami the day before his arrest, he’d never been to Tallahassee and denied any knowledge of Markel’s killing.
He also said he’d never made any trips with a second suspect, revealed in the unsealed court documents as Garcia’s accomplice: a Latin Kings North Miami gang leader Luis Rivera.
Rivera was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison earlier this year for unrelated racketeering charges.
He is being held in a federal prison north of Orlando. A warrant has been issued for his arrest in Leon County on a murder charge, but had not been served as of Thursday afternoon.
Garcia, Rivera and Markel had never met. Rather, the arrest report says, they “were enlisted to commit this egregious act against someone they did not know and had never interacted with before the murder.”
DeLeo could not yet confirm whether money for the murder exchanged hands but Garcia’s arrest papers say Rivera’s checking account revealed a North Miami transaction about 6:46 p.m. the day Markel was killed.
The report says Rivera, also known as “King Tato,” rented a green 2008 Toyota Prius from a North Miami rental car company. He and Garcia, the report said, then drove the car to Tallahassee on July 16, 2014. The car would become integral in cracking the case.
The men, police say, arrived just after midnight and checked into a West Tennessee Street motel.
Cellphone records and witnesses show the duo spent the next day scoping out the area near Markel’s house. The night before the murder, a third person known to police rented the men a room at a North Monroe Street motel.
Investigators say surveillance footage and cellphone records show the men followed Markel the next morning after dropping his sons off at preschool and going to the gym.
A friend on the phone with Markel reported he said a stranger was in his driveway when he pulled in about 11 a.m. It was the last word Markel said.
A neighbor called police after hearing a loud bang and seeing a light colored, Prius-like car pull out of the driveway. Markel died at the hospital early the next day.
The suspected connection
Investigators say Garcia and Rivera turned their phones off before 10 a.m. the day they murdered Markel, then fled back to North Miami, taking Interstate 10 to I-75.
The first person Garcia called when his phone was picked up again at 12:30 p.m. on cellular towers in the Lake City area was Katherine Magbanua.
The call to Magbanua, the mother of his two children, was one of 2,700 investigators found Garcia made to her between May 1, 2014, and July 19, 2014 – the day after Markel’s killing. After that, his phone went dead for good.
Magbanua, who is listed on state records as vice president of Garcia’s company, S. Garcia Solutions Inc., was involved at the time of the murder in what DeLeo described as “a very personal relationship” with Charles Adelson.
In Garcia’s arrest documents, she is cited as the link between the accused killers and the Adelsons.
Call records show Magbanua was one of Charles Adelson’s “top contacts.” She too is still being investigated, DeLeo said. There is no mention of her being interviewed yet by police.
DeLeo said multiple agencies have put in countless hours chipping away at thousands of leads in the case. For 22 months suspects eluded police who gathered evidence as it came in. There was no defining moment that changed the investigation, he said.
“It’s not a race,” he added. “I wouldn’t say it’s painstakingly slow, it’s painstakingly thorough.”