WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida woman and ex-escort was so eager to get her husband's money that she solicited a hit man to have him killed, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday, but a defense attorney said she was entrapped by a police department seeking television fame.
As opening statements began in Dalia Dippolito's third trial, prosecutor Craig Williams told the three-woman, three-man Palm Beach County jury that she wanted her husband, convicted conman Michael Dippolito, killed. She wanted his money, their townhouse and his cars, so she plotted her husband's "destruction," Williams said.
The case gained national notoriety following her 2009 arrest when undercover video of her conversation with the supposed hit man was shown on the "Cops" television show. A 2011 conviction for solicitation of first-degree murder and a 20-year sentence were thrown out on appeal, and a retrial last fall ended with a hung jury.
"She is absolutely, overwhelmingly guilty," Williams said.
Dippolito's attorney, Brian Claypool, portrayed his 34-year-old client as a victim of an overzealous Boynton Beach police department that wanted to gain fame on "Cops," which happened to be filming in town. He said Dalia Dippolito had no intention to kill her husband, but was egged on by an informant and an undercover police officer posing as a hit man.
"This case was a fiction created by the police department to create a script for 'Cops,'" Claypool said.
Williams read to the jurors X-rated text messages Dippolito exchanged with a now-deceased lover, Mike Stanley, in July 2009 just months after she got married. They allegedly show how she originally planned to get her husband sent to prison for violating his probation. When that failed, Williams said, she shifted to having him murdered.
For example, Williams said she had Stanley impersonate a doctor, to help her hide her theft of $100,000 from her husband, and later a lawyer, to make him wrongly think he had completed probation. She hoped that if her husband stopped visiting his probation officer, he would be found in violation and sent back to prison and she would have his money and property, Williams said.
When that failed, Williams said, Dippolito approached a former lover, Mohammed Shihadeh, to ask his help in finding a hit man to kill her husband. Instead, Shihadeh contacted Boynton Beach police and asked detectives for help. That triggered a week-long investigation that included a 23-minute videotaped meeting with undercover officer Widy Jean, pretending to be a hit man, where she said she was "5,000 percent sure" she wanted her husband dead and agreed to pay $7,000.
It ended with detectives staging a murder scene where they told Dippolito her husband had been killed and her interview with detectives where she suggested possible killers. She then denied knowing Jean when they brought him before her and told her he was their suspect. They then arrested her. Detectives let "Cops" film much of it.
Claypool said detectives' cooperation with "Cops" show they weren't conducting a thorough and just investigation. He said they ignored Shihadeh's belief that she wasn't serious about hiring a hit man and her claim that she was being abused by her husband. Instead, they thought they had "stuck the lottery."
"A murder-for-hire is pretty juicy for a TV show," he said.
Michael Dippolito has said he met his former wife when he hired her for sex in 2008 and then fell in love. However, that testimony isn't being admitted in this trial. It has been ruled prejudicial to the defendant.
Dippolito, the first prosecution witness, said that shortly after they married in January 2009 his now ex-wife duped him out of $100,000 that was supposed to be used for restitution to people he had swindled in a stock scam. That scam had led to his conviction and a two-year prison sentence, followed by 28 years of probation that could be ended early if he repaid the $191,000 he owed his victims. This happened before he met his wife.
He said his wife told him that if he gave her $100,000, she would add $91,000 of her own money. He gave her the money in March 2009 but she never sent it to his lawyer, Michael Dippolito said. He said that shortly after he confronted her, she falsely told him she was pregnant.
He also said someone twice planted illegal drugs in his SUV and called the police. That could have sent him back to prison. He said he suspected his wife.
Under cross-examination, Michael Dippolito admitted that he reported to his probation officer only about half of his annual $128,000 income from the internet marketing company he owns because he didn't want his monthly restitution payment increased. He also conceded that at various times he thought other people, including the wife he dumped for Dalia Dippolito, could have been behind the planted drugs.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.