Nicholas Djokich to wait before building the largest Serbian Orthodox Church in Western Canada

In a kidnap trial, one accused faces 22 years, another was taken home by his children

United States District court

Djokich was spearheading an ambitious charity project to build the largest Serbian Orthodox Church in Western Canada (artist’s rendering).

Adrian Humphreys, National Post · Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010

When a jury’s verdict was passed to a judge in Boston last month, it spelled starkly different futures for two Canadian men accused by the U.S. government of plotting to kidnap a lawyer from his tropical island estate and kill him in a savage bid to recover a lost investment.

Nicholas Djokich, 59, of Calgary, was found guilty and faces 22 years in prison. His co-accused, Eginardo De Angelis, 74, of Montreal, was found not guilty and was collected by his two children that same day and driven home where he looks to recover his reputation.

“Spending 20 months in a detention centre has to be one of the worst experiences anyone can go through, but even more so when you know you’ve done nothing to deserve it,” Mr. De Angelis, known as Angelo, told the National Post.

“You are constantly surrounded with suffering and you feel completely helpless and humiliated.”

The shocking case of investor revenge taken to dreadful extremes — involving a severed finger, a hit list of officials in several Canadian companies, a sweeping expression of charity and secretly recorded conversations with a hit man who turned out to be a government agent — was revealed in 2008 when the two Canadians were arrested in the United States.

The target of the plot was Richard DeVries, a lawyer from Calgary now living in the Bahamas. Mr. DeVries, however, was not the first victim of revenge nor was he expected to be the last.

Djokich made millions through oil and cattle futures and was spearheading an ambitious charity project to build the largest Serbian Orthodox Church in Western Canada. Djokich, however, soon discovered that his amassed wealth — said to be as much as $175-million — had evaporated in a dubious investment scheme.

He felt swindled, but rather than go to police he embarked on a crusade to recover the money himself.

In 2006, Djokich kidnapped Calgary businessman William Lenz, a partner in the investment. Mr. Lenz was hooded and had a pinkie finger mostly severed as an incentive to turn over money, court heard.

Mr. Lenz signed a wire transfer for $15-million during his ordeal. The bank, however, required him to appear in person to get the money and the kidnappers received nothing. (The finger was surgically reattached and no charges were laid.)

In the summer of 2008, still unsatisfied, Djokich met with Nasser Safieddine, a man passing himself off as a money launderer with international connections. Mr. Safieddine was, in reality, a car dealer also known as Nick who was convicted on drug charges in Detroit in 2003 and worked for the U.S. government as an informant.

Mr. Safieddine’s 2003 plea deal for conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin, that arrived in Canada and the U.S. hidden inside Islamic prayer rugs, was recently unsealed to allow him to testify in court against the two Canadians.

After being asked by Djokich if he could snatch Mr. DeVries, Mr. Safieddine said he was the wrong man for the job but knew someone who could help. Mr. Safieddine called his contact at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and then introduced Djokich to a U.S. agent posing as an experienced hit man.

“This guy was writing like you wouldn’t believe after he lost his finger,” Djokich told the agent of the Lenz incident in secretly recorded conversations.

“Oh, that’ll do it to you,” replied the agent.

“Well, the thing is this,” said Djokich, “the next day, he was going to taste one of his balls.”

Djokich paid $10,000 to the agent as partial fee to kidnap Mr. DeVries, take him out in a boat and try to force him to turn over money.

“If he refuses and everything, f—, he’s going to the fish. It’s as simple as that,” Djokich said.

Djokich and Mr. De Angelis, who was with him at a couple of the meetings, were arrested in the U.S. in October 2008, and held in prison waiting a trial that began in May and ended mid-June.

Mr. De Angelis did not meet Djokich until late 2007, introduced by a mutual friend because Djokich was interested in contacts Mr. De Angelis had in the Middle East from his days running a hotel furniture company that worked with high-end hotels, said Mr. De Angelis’ son, Domenic.

“Djokich was going around saying that my dad had ties to the underworld — with a conveniently Italian last name — because he was afraid that he was going to get ripped off by the [hit man],” said Domenic De Angelis.

“My dad was dragged into the mess because ICE thought they had ‘Don Corleone’ in their crosshairs. Their whole case on my dad is frivolous and they admitted that my dad had no past criminal record and was not known by the RCMP as having any ties to the Mafia,” he said.

The jury agreed. After a two-and-a-half-week trial and two days of deliberation, during which they handed U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf a note asking what the consequences were if they were deadlocked on some counts, the jury returned its verdict: Djokich was guilty of conspiring to commit kidnapping and conspiring to commit murder-for-hire; Mr. De Angelis was not guilty of the same charges.

When Mr. De Angelis heard the verdict he was speechless.

“I can’t put it in words. I have always maintained my innocence and the jury recognized it. They saw through all the lies and fabrication of information about me and I’m glad they confirmed it,” he told the Post.

Now, Mr. De Angelis is consulting with lawyers about a lawsuit against the U.S. government, alleging wrongful prosecution and 20 months incarceration.

“The last year and a half was difficult for my family,” said Dominic De Angelis. “When something like this happens, people are very quick to judge a person based on media reports or gossip.

“I think the hard part was hearing all the lies said about a person you love and the feeling of helplessness against the American justice system.”

Djokich is not yet done with the U.S. courts either. He has yet to be sentenced and he is challenging the verdict and seeking a new trial.

In court filings, Djokich’s lawyer argues that with Mr. De Angelis’ acquittal, it leaves little in the way of co-conspirators, since U.S. law does not allow for a conspiracy between one person and a government agent.

A date for hearing those motions has not yet been set.

National Post