- An attorney for one defendant says, "This was nothing more than his fantasy life"
- Another defense attorney says motions will be filed on First Amendment grounds
- Feds say the 3 exchanged messages about kidnapping, torturing and killing women
Three men whose identities surfaced during New York's "Cannibal Cop" kidnap conspiracy investigation pleaded not guilty Thursday to their own conspiracy charges, federal prosecutors said.
Michael Vanhise, Richard Meltz and Robert Christopher Asch entered not-guilty pleas to conspiracy to kidnap charges and remain in custody, according to Jerika Richardson, spokeswoman for the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Vanhise was arrested in January after authorities uncovered e-mail conversations he had with New York police officer Gilberto Valle. In those online conversations, Vanhise agreed to pay Valle $5,000 to render a woman unconscious, stuff her into a suitcase and bring her to Vanhise's home in New Jersey, where she would be raped, according to authorities.
Valle, whose attorneys argued in court that his online conversations were the product of "fantasy role-play," was convicted in March of conspiracy to kidnap and accessing a law enforcement database illegally. He will be sentenced in June.
According to the complaint against the three men, authorities allege Vanhise engaged in a series of e-mail and instant messages with Asch and Meltz beginning in 2011 during which they discussed and planned in great detail the kidnapping, torture and murder of women.
Police arrested Meltz, 65, and Asch, 60, last week on charges of conspiring to kidnap, torture, rape and kill women and children, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney's office. Meltz is the chief of police for a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Bedford, Massachusetts. Asch is a former New York City high school librarian who lives in New Jersey.
According to prosecutors, an undercover FBI agent met with Asch April 15 to conduct surveillance of a kidnap target, who unbeknownst to Asch was an undercover female agent. During this meeting, Asch brought two bags of tools intended to be used in the kidnapping including a taser gun, rope, meat hammer, duct tape, gloves, cleaning supplies, zip ties, and a dental retractor, a wireless modem, and a leg spreader.
Asch's attorney, Bradley Drew Simon, told CNN he did not have any comment.
Vanhise's attorney, Alice L. Frontier, meanwhile, said "the evidence against Vanhise hasn't changed and he obviously maintains his innocence."
Referring to the government's case against her client, Frontier said "they have little more than his words."
"Obviously we are going to be filing motions seeking to dismiss the indictment; First Amendment grounds will be one of them," Frontier said Thursday.
Meltz's attorney, Peter Bril, told CNN, "No matter what other defendants may have done, Mr. Meltz never took part in anything other than pure fantasy play, this was nothing more than his fantasy life ... He never had any intention in actually engaging in hurting another person."
The next court conference in the case is scheduled for July 11, according to Richardson.