DetroitJuly 24, 2012
Storeowner says Bashara paid him to have handyman killed in jail
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
The owner of an eastside Detroit furniture store testified that Robert Bashara offered him money to have handyman Joseph Gentz killed behind bars prior to a July competency hearing, and handed him a $2,000 cash down payment for which Bashara requested a receipt stating it was for appliances.
Steven Tibaudo, owner of Steve’s Furniture and Appliance, told prosecutors that he recorded several conversations in June with Robert Bashara, 54, of Grosse Pointe Park. Bashara has been charged with solicitation of murder for reportedly hiring someone to kill Joseph Gentz, the handyman charged with killing Bashara’s wife, Jane Bashara, in January. During Bashara’s preliminary examination July 24 in front of 36th District Court Chief Judge Kenneth King, Wayne County Prosecutors Lisa Lindsey and Robert Moran brought forward Tibaudo, store employee Edward Fahner and former store employee Stephen Cobb, who was ushered into the courtroom wearing a jail uniform on an unspecified charge.
Tibaudo said he wore different recording devices provided by Michigan State Police and detectives with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office’s Criminal Investigation Bureau for his meetings with Bashara. Tibaudo can be heard suggesting that someone could spike Gentz’s prison food with ground-up glass or poison in one of his conversations with Bashara. Bashara, who owns and operates a number of rental properties, has been purchasing appliances for those properties from Tibaudo for roughly the last decade, but Tibaudo characterized their relationship as strictly business, not friendship.
During their exchanges, the longtime storeowner said Bashara patted him down in search of a hidden microphone.
“He said, ‘Are you wearing a wire?’” Tibaudo told the court. “I said no, that’s against my religion to wear a wire — I’m Sicilian.”
Recalling their last meeting June 25 — when Bashara allegedly gave him the down payment on what was ultimately said to be a $20,000 job — Tibaudo began crying on the stand, wiping away tears with a handkerchief.
“It was five months to the day that they found Jane’s body,” he said, breaking down afterward.
The man Tibaudo described — someone he characterized as “unraveling” and paranoid, convinced that there was a conspiracy against him with regard to his wife’s murder — is a far cry from the family man and community volunteer Bashara’s attorney, David Griem, has called his client.
Tibaudo provided some of the most potentially damning testimony during the hearing, but Griem questioned his credibility, as well as that of the other witnesses.
The July 24 hearing marked the last one in this case for Griem and Christina Utley, who’ve been representing Bashara until this point. On July 19, King denied Griem’s emergency motion to have him and Utley removed from the case, saying Griem hadn’t given him a reason for the change. Griem has maintained that while he couldn’t get into the specifics behind his decision, he and Bashara no longer saw eye to eye on the case, and his client would be better served with another attorney.
“I’ve never bailed on anything in my life, but things happen between an attorney and a client where they’re not on the same page and not even on the same book,” Griem said outside the courthouse. “When that happens, an attorney needs to bring a motion to withdraw.”
After interviewing a handful of candidates, Griem said, Bashara selected veteran criminal defense attorney Mark Kriger as his new legal counsel. Griem said Kriger, who was involved in a federal trial in Detroit at the time of Bashara’s preliminary exam, has indicated he plans to file a motion to remand the case back to 36th District Court for a new preliminary exam. The preliminary exam often provides the foundation for a defense attorney’s case, and Griem said because lawyers have different styles and ways of handling cases, it’s imperative for the attorney behind the prelim to also be the one representing the client during the trial.
A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Kriger has been a licensed attorney for the last 33 years.
King bound over Bashara for arraignment at 9 a.m. July 31 in Wayne County Third Circuit Court Criminal Division. At press time, show cause hearings against Griem, including one alleging he leaked a confidential discovery document to Bashara’s mother in violation of a court order, were scheduled to take place Aug. 15.
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