Man said to don fake beard in alleged Bethesda murder attempt

Frank Cipriani entered a Bethesda home, wearing a disguise and posing as a building inspector. He faced his lover's husband, and pulled out a gun.

Then his fake beard fell off.

In that instant, prosecutors say, an elaborate murder plot also unraveled. As a startled Cipriani asked his target, "Do you know who I am?" the man was able to bolt out the front door to safety.

Those allegations were laid out in court this week by Montgomery County prosecutors. Cipriani, 43, who is charged with attempted murder, posted a $200,000 bond Tuesday, and was expected to be released from the county jail, according to a corrections official.

His attorney said he remains on leave from his position as a contracting officer for the U.S. Census Bureau.

"This is, on some level, very crazy behavior," the attorney, Philip Armstrong, told a judge Monday. "I mean, he's a responsible person with a responsible job."

Armstrong said he doesn't believe Cipriani ever had a handgun, only a BB gun that looks like the real thing. He said in court that his client is now receiving therapy and medicine for mental health issues.

"We're satisfied that when all of the evidence comes out, we're going to learn that, at worst, it was his intent to scare the complainant," Armstrong said in an interview.

But authorities say there is evidence of something far more sinister. Cipriani had been having an affair with a married woman and wanted his lover's husband "out of the picture," Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Chaikin said in court Monday.

Chaikin said Cipriani hatched a plan that included furtively obtaining his intended victim's fingerprints and typing a fake suicide note he planned to leave next to the corpse. Cipriani also is charged with assault and use of a handgun in a violent crime.

"We're beyond probable cause," Chaikin told District Judge Gary L. Crawford, saying the victim is lucky to be alive.

Cipriani, who is married with children, grew up in New Jersey and attended Seton Hall University, according to court records and his Facebook profile. On his Facebook page, Cipriani wrote that he "knows" Italian and Spanish, and admires Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Jefferson and Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1989, when he was about 21 years old, Cipriani pleaded guilty in New Jersey to kidnapping and "threat-to-kill," according to court records. Armstrong noted that his client was a young man at the time, and that the case couldn't have been serious because the judge imposed only four years probation, which ended after the second year.

In court Monday, Cipriani looked down for much of the time. As the hearing ended, he blew his wife a kiss. She did the same, her eyes filled with tears.

Cipriani joined the Census bureau in or before 2004, according to court papers, and earns just over $100,000.

At some point, he began having an affair with a married colleague he supervises, Chaikin said. Then he came up with a plan.

Cipriani hosted a party, and invited the husband and his wife. He took the husband to play a guessing game, Chaikin said.

The husband was blindfolded, handed objects, such as picture frames, and asked to guess what they were.

"The police now think that that was to get his fingerprints," Chaikin told the judge.

Cipriani also allegedly wrote an email to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He claimed to be a 15-year-old girl who was having a sexual relationship with the husband, according to prosecutors.

First he tried to ruin the man, Chaikin told the judge, then he tried to kill him.

Authorities say Cipriani came up with a ruse based on the fact that his target, and the target's wife, were building a house.

In a phone call, Cipriani posed as a building inspector and told the husband they needed to meet at the house.

"He lured a man ... to his almost-death," Chaikin said.

Cipriani arrived, pulled out a gun, handed his target a glass of water and told him to drink it, Chaikin said. The man feared he was going to get shot in the throat. But then part of the beard fell off and Cipriani asked his target if he recognized him, authorities said.

"No, no I don't, I don't know who you are," the man responded, according to Chaikin.

The target was lying, and recognized the assailant as his wife's boss, according to charging papers. Moments later a contractor arrived. The victim bolted for the front door and Cipriani ran for the back.

Detectives found two fake suicide notes, charging papers say. They also found a hair they think came from the fake beard.