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Randallstown man pleads guilty to murder-for-hire plot, extortion and drug charges

A Randallstown man pleaded guilty to a murder-for-hire conspiracy charge Tuesday, admitting that he’d agreed to kill a local restaurant owner who owed another man money.

Stepfen Gerard Gaither, 30, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Tuesday to federal charges of murder-for-hire conspiracy, interstate communications with intent to extort, and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and heroin.

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In his plea agreement, Gaither admitted that he sent threatening messages to the restaurant owner and his business partner over a period of several months from 2019 through 2020 and participated in a plot to try to kill the restaurant owner over debt owed to Clement Mercaldo Jr., a 62-year-old Timonium resident.

The plea agreement states that Mercaldo lent the business owner more than $1 million from 2008 to 2017, but that the restaurant owner struggled to pay back the debt he owed.

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In addition, the plea agreement states that the restaurant owner’s vehicle’s windows were smashed when it was parked at his home in March 2019 and his house was set on fire Aug. 4, 2019, causing more than $300,000 worth of damage and forcing the family to move.

While the plea agreement states that Gaither was in the area when both incidents occurred, it does not explicitly state that he committed the two acts.

An attorney for Gaither did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday.

As Mercaldo became increasingly frustrated over the unpaid debt, he eventually agreed to pay Gaither to kill the restaurant owner, the plea agreement reads. In January 2020, Gaither then began conducting surveillance of the restaurant and of the family’s home, according to the plea agreement, and the two continued to exchange text messages about how to kill the man.

“Man i really want to run in store and kill his ass now,” Gaither texted Mercaldo on Jan. 9, 2020, according to the plea agreement.

The two were arrested June 23, 2020, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and a search of Gaither’s house revealed a loaded handgun, a permit to carry a handgun, 732 pills marked as 30 mg OxyContin, as well as additional ammunition for the handgun.

An examination of the pills also found that they included a combination of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid magnitudes more potent than heroin, the plea agreement reads. As the synthetic opioid has become a larger part of the drug trade, police say that some dealers have begun making counterfeit opioid pills with fentanyl.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in a news release that investigators examining Gaither’s phone found evidence of drug trafficking activity dating back at least three years, including photos of large quantities of apparent narcotics and videos of Gaither weighing apparent crack cocaine on a digital scale.

Mercaldo pleaded guilty Aug. 5 to his role in the murder-for-hire plot, prosecutors said, and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote that if the judge accepts the terms of Gaither’s plea agreement, he will be sentenced to 11 to 13 years in federal prison. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 6.

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