JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- A former police officer who took part in a crime ring with three colleagues will spend the rest of his life in prison for strangling a convenience store chain owner during a botched robbery.
Karl Waldon, who once aspired to be Duval County's sheriff, did not react when U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. handed down the four life sentences Monday. He was also ordered to pay $58,900 in restitution.
Waldon declined to speak to the judge before the sentencing and the victim's family members also declined comment.
Waldon's attorney, Russell Smith, said his client didn't speak because he's innocent. An appeal is planned, Smith said.
Waldon was convicted Nov. 6 on 14 of 15 federal charges, including violating the civil rights of Sami Safar, who was strangled in the back seat of Waldon's police cruiser on July 3, 1998. Safar had just withdrawn $51,000 from the bank so he could cash customer checks at his businesses.
Waldon was also convicted of taking drugs from drug dealers, trying to cover up his involvement by lying to a federal grand jury and trying to intimidate a witness. He was found innocent of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
In addition to the life sentences, Adams imposed additional sentences of 20 years, 10 years and one year, with all the sentences to run simultaneously.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Klindt, who prosecuted the case, said he did not consider the conviction of Waldon and the other officers an indictment of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, but of some "rogue cops." He called Waldon's slaying of Safar "gutless."
Witnesses testified Waldon used his patrol car to stop Safar on the ruse that Safar was wanted on a warrant. The plan was to put the handcuffed Safar in the back of the car and leave the bag containing the money in Safar's car, so others in the conspiracy could come and steal it.
But Safar, who thought police were involved in an early robbery of his nephew, insisted on taking the money with him.
Moments later, Waldon called a friend, Kenneth McLaughlin on his cell phone.
"He's seen my face. I've got to take him out," Waldon told McLaughlin. He then drove to the deserted parking lot of an elementary school.
"Please don't kill me," Safar begged.
Witnesses said Waldon choked Safar unconscious with a rope, although the medical examiner could not determine the exact cause of death. Safar was also wedged between the car's seat and the metal cage that protected the police officer.
McLaughlin is accused of dumping Safar's body in a thicket, where it was found the next day by a man searching for cans. He was sentenced last week to 19 years and seven months in prison. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the death of Safar and other crimes.
The case grew out of a federal probe that started in September 1999 into allegations that some Jacksonville police officers were tipping off drug dealers about raids.
At that time, Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover called it "a breach of trust."
Others sentenced last week included former officer Aric Sinclair, 34, who was given 17 years and seven months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy.
Former officer Jason Pough, 36, was sentenced to five years in prison and three years' probation for his part in a ring of theft and drug dealing.
Pough and Sinclair admitted their involvement in the crimes and testified against Waldon in exchange for lesser sentences.
Former officer Reginald Bones, 36, was sentenced to time served and three years' probation after he pleaded guilty to an unrelated bank fraud charge.
A friend of Sinclair, Daryl Crowden, was sentenced to four years in prison and three years' probation after pleading guilty to robbery and an unrelated drug charge.
Authorities said the conspiracy began in 1996 when Waldon, Pough and Sinclair started robbing drug dealers of money and cocaine.