Photo by Doyle Murphy
The house in Pacific where the defendants are accused of holding a kidnapped Maplewood man.
A co-defendant in the kidnapping case against tanning mogul Todd Beckman
pleaded guilty today in federal court.
Zachary Smith, 25, of Eureka was seen from the start as an ancillary figure in the headline-grabbing case. He was reportedly a friend of Blake Laubinger, who along with his brother, Beckman and another Beckman associate is accused of holding a young Maplewood man hostage for three days in November.
The crew tortured the man, releasing him only after his parents paid a $27,000 ransom, according to an indictment.
Smith made a brief appearance during the violent episode, dropping by Blake Laubinger's house in Pacific, where the co-defendants allegedly had the man bound to a pole in the basement.
Prosecutors had originally alleged that Smith was more than a passive observer, taking a turn with a stun gun as the men threatened and abused the victim.
But there was no mention of Smith actually assaulting anyone on Monday in open court as U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig carefully reviewed the plea agreement with him. Instead, he pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, which basically means he covered up the crime.
Smith originally claimed he'd dropped by Blake Laubinger's house on November 22 when he saw the garage door was open, but he said he never saw the Maplewood man.
"I saw a glimpse of something, but it wasn't, umm, you know what I mean," Smith told detectives when he was arrested in December.
On Monday, Smith was flanked by defense attorney John Rogers and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis as Fleissig read through the facts of the case. Smith admitted that he did see the victim, who was, according to the language of the agreement, "severely beaten." He admitted he did not call the cops. And he admitted he lied to investigators when he was arrested on December 5.
Smith faces a maximum prison sentence of three years when he is sentenced in September. His attorney, Rogers, declined to discuss the case after court, citing pending litigation.
Smith's plea was the first in the case that threatens to upend the local success story of Beckman.
The 52-year-old is the founder of BAM Brands, the parent company of a suite of lifestyle and fitness chains, including TanCo, MassageLuXe and LifeXist. He has pleaded not guilty.
During his December interview with police
, Beckman claimed he played a similar role to Smith. He told investigators that he too had just wandered into a bad situation and denied he took part in any of the violence.
Law enforcement officers, however, have painted him as a ringleader who helped his protege, Blake Laubinger, plan the kidnapping over a drug debt and also took part in the torture.
The 52-year-old allegedly pistol-whipped the victim, threatened to kill him and collected the ransom money, according to the indictment. When the kidnappers decided they needed a more remote location to hold the man, they drove him to Beckman's land in Fenton and locked him in a shipping container, authorities say.
After the ransom money was paid, the kidnappers drove the victim to the Gravois Bluffs shopping center and dumped him in the parking lot, authorities say. The vehicle they used? A TanCo van.
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