A federal judge sentenced Stepfen Gaither, 30, of Randallstown to 12 years in prison for his role as the hit man in a failed plot to murder a Baltimore County restaurant owner over a $1 million debt.
Federal prosecutors announced Gaither’s prison sentence Thursday, saying he terrorized the restaurant owner and the man’s business partner, sending them threatening messages and setting one’s house on fire before planning to murder the restaurant owner.
“I commend the FBI and Baltimore County Police Department whose investigative work stopped Gaither and his co-conspirator before they succeeded in their murder-for-hire,” U.S. Attorney for Maryland Erek Barron said in a statement. “This sentence sends a strong message that threats and violence will not be tolerated and will lead to jail time.”
Gaither pleaded guilty in August to federal charges of murder-for-hire conspiracy, interstate communications with intent to extort, and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and heroin.
In his plea agreement, Gaither admitted that he sent threatening messages to the restaurant owner and the man’s business partner in 2019 and 2020. Gaither also admitted to the plot to kill the restaurant owner over money the man owed Clement Mercaldo Jr., 62, of Timonium.
Mercaldo had lent the restaurant owner more than $1 million from 2008 to 2017, according to court records. The restaurant owner made payments to Mercaldo until 2019, when he was unable to continue, federal prosecutors said.
Then Mercaldo himself fell into debt and sold his belongings to pay his expenses. Mercaldo hired Gaither to help him collect the money.
Prosecutors said Gaither smashed the victim’s car windows and set fire to his house. Eventually, prosecutors said, Mercaldo agreed to pay Gaither to murder the man. The two were arrested in June 2020.
Prosecutors said a search of Gaither’s house turned up a loaded handgun, a permit to carry a handgun, ammunition and 732 pills. The pills were found to include heroin and fentanyl, prosecutors said.
Mercaldo pleaded guilty in August to his role in the murder-for-hire plot. He died last month while awaiting sentencing.