LOS ANGELES (AP) – If Eugene Temkin had heeded a warning by FBI agents two years ago to not kill a former business partner, he wouldn’t have found himself in front of a judge on Monday, being sentenced to six years in prison for hatching a murder-for-hire plot.
The 51-year-old man from Goleta, Calif., tried twice to carry out the hit on Michael Hershman, with the second attempt just four months after the FBI learned about the diabolical plan and warned him to stay away. In both instances, Temkin unwittingly tried to hire an undercover law enforcement officer to carry out the hit.
He was convicted last year of three murder-for-hire-related counts. Federal prosecutors sought a 20-year prison sentence, but U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson noted Temkin had no prior criminal record. He also noted that Temkin contemplated the hit on Hershman for more than six years but never followed through, seeming intent during some instances and in others “just blowing steam.”
In the end, however, Temkin “was walking a tightrope, a thin line and he went over that line,” Wilson said.
Temkin, shackled in handcuffs, asked for forgiveness during the hearing but never directly mentioned Hershman, who sat only a few feet away.
“I seek forgiveness from those who were adversely affected by my actions,” said Temkin, who on several occasions looked in Hershman’s direction.
The case was striking because of Temkin’s desire to destroy Hershman for a business deal that soured nearly a decade earlier. Court documents showed the fear, helplessness and frustration of Hershman and his family, who said they were terrorized and traumatized while getting little help from authorities.
For Hershman and his family, the last several years have been painful and agonizing. His 20-year-old son died from an accidental drug overdose in late 2010, and he slept with a machete because Temkin hired people to stalk and harass him, Hershman said. His college-age daughter has been placed in a psychiatric clinic in Texas where she has hallucinations and believes she’s been kidnapped by Temkin, he said.
“The relentless problems and things Mr. Temkin has inflicted, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone in this room, not even on Mr. Temkin himself,” Hershman said.
The men met when they were selling drugs in the 1980s, according to court documents. In 2001, Temkin lent Hershman $500,000 _ money from a second mortgage on an apartment building he owned _ to invest in a casino in Equatorial Guinea. When Hershman was unable to repay Temkin right away because the casino had not fared well, Temkin sued his then-business partner after losing the apartment complex in foreclosure.
The lawsuit was settled in 2006, but authorities said Temkin wanted about $5 million for unrealized profits he would have received had he sold the apartment building before the real estate market crashed.
Temkin repeatedly threatened and harassed Hershman and his family, investigators said. Pictures and other heirlooms were stolen from Hershman’s storage unit. Their emails were hacked, and his children said they were followed by strange men.
Temkin was never charged in connection with those incidents, but Hershman obtained a restraining order against him in 2007, saying Temkin made gun signals at him with his hands, according to an affidavit.
Hershman said he pleaded with law enforcement agencies to investigate Temkin but they did nothing.
The investigation took a turn in late 2009 when one of Temkin’s friends approached Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives saying Temkin wanted to extort money from Hershman before killing him. A series of meetings were arranged between an undercover detective posing as a hit man and Temkin, who gave varying scenarios of how Hershman should be killed.
One plot involved a crew kidnapping Hershman and his family in the Dominican Republic and having the undercover officer kill them.
“Hang him from a door, throw him from a fishing boat, all works for me,” Temkin said during one of the recorded conversations with the investigator.
In March 2010, FBI agents met with Temkin who told them about the dispute but denied making threats. The agents then told Temkin not to threaten, hurt or kill Hershman, according to court documents. Temkin agreed.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said it’s not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to receive cases where death threats are made, but “the government has to prove a legal intent that someone planned to go through with it.”
Temkin apparently wasn’t dissuaded, because several months later authorities learned he was still interested in killing Hershman. Another undercover officer, acting as a hit man, began meeting with Temkin, who indicated he had another hired hand to kill Hershman but would call the officer if plans fell through.
In July 2010, Temkin gave the officer the green light to kill Hershman, his wife and a business partner, authorities said. Temkin provided the undercover officer with Hershman’s passport number, photographs of the would-be victims and 30 $100 bills for the job expected to cost $30,000.
Temkin was arrested six days later at his home outside of Santa Barbara.
In arguing for a sentence no greater than six years, defense attorney Richard Callahan said Temkin called off plans to kill Hershman after the meeting with FBI agents.
“While Mr. Temkin was angry and fixated on Hershman’s debt, he never took action on it for almost 10 years despite clear opportunities to do so,” Callahan wrote. It wasn’t until the FBI intervened that Temkin “crossed the line.”
Wilson said he’s unsure if Temkin truly wanted to follow through on his plans.
“No one knows exactly what was in his mind,” he said.
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