By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
AKRON -- Embarrassed and contrite, suspended Warren attorney Maridee L. Costanzo told the federal judge who sentenced her to eight years in prison that trying to have her estranged husband killed was a "horrible thing."
Costanzo, legs shackled, dark hair pulled back in a single braid, face devoid of makeup and puffy from crying, apologized to her parents as she stood in federal court Thursday. She was permitted to wear street clothes -- white blouse and tan pants -- for the hearing instead of the jail garb she's worn since arrested in April.
She pleaded guilty in June in the murder-for-hire plot to kill Warren attorney Roger Bauer, her estranged husband.
"I want to say I'm sorry to my parents. They stood by me through this whole thing, and I'm very sorry. It was a horrible thing I did," Costanzo said in court Thursday. "I was out of my mind. You can't imagine what it's like to have your husband of 15 years bring a mistress into your home."
She said she couldn't get off the merry-go-round and was in a pay-to-play arena that overwhelmed her. She said she knew she had problems but had always been able to overcome them.
"I just want to be 'the Tweeter' again -- that was my nickname. I'm really sorry for everything I did," Costanzo said. "You can give me 10 years; you can give me 20 years; you can give me a life sentence, but I've already got that because I've lost everything, so I'm going to do life. I'll never practice law again."
U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. said Costanzo's comment about being out of her mind sounded like an insanity defense to him. He wanted to be sure Costanzo's pleading guilty in the murder-for-hire scheme would not have to be revisited.
Costanzo, 47, said she meant that she was "just overwhelmed" in her life and the comment wasn't meant as a defense. A psychological report filed with the court revealed that she is bipolar, has borderline personality disorder and is opiate dependent.
"It was just too much for me, not as a defense of insanity, but when you have to make a thousand dollars a week, you have to drive a Lincoln, you have to wear a fur coat, you have to give Roger cases so he could make money to take his girlfriend out, take her to Florida," Costanzo said. "You got to understand there were a lot of days I had to appear in front of seven, nine, 11 judges and each one of those judges expected me to either give them an envelope, support their financial campaigns, act in a certain way, do this, do that."
She said "God forbid you ever go into a courtroom where the prosecutor is running for judge because if that happens then you have to pay him, too. I just couldn't do it anymore, it made me sick. I was having to do things that I knew were immoral and ethically wrong and yet I had to shut up and play and pay."
Costanzo said she's glad the plan to kill Bauer came to light because it saved her life -- she was ready to kill herself.
Judge Dowd, in giving her eight years, rejected the 10-year prison sentence agreed to by the government and Costanzo in her plea agreement. He said her admitting guilt factored into his decision.
The judge fined her $1,100, the down payment she made to have Bauer killed.
Costanzo has been in custody in an Akron-area jail since her arrest and the time will count toward her prison term. Judge Dowd ordered that she complete a drug treatment program once incarcerated in a federal prison and pointed out that the program would reduce her sentence.
Federal inmates who complete intensive drug treatment programs can have a year knocked off their sentence. Good behavior will also reduce Costanzo's time by roughly 14 months so she could be released in about six years.
Costanzo's Cleveland attorney, David L. Doughten, said after court that Costanzo may initially be housed at a federal prison medical center. He told reporters that she hasn't provided the government with information about others and "if she had, I wouldn't tell you."
Costanzo will serve three years' supervised release once out of prison and must participate in outpatient drug and mental health programs. She is prohibited from having contact with Bauer and his girlfriend, Marie Paonessa.
Bauer wasn't in court for the hearing but a friend, Columbus attorney Stuart Benis, spoke on his behalf.
"Roger chose not be here today. He thought it would be emotionally very difficult for him," Benis said. "Roger feels that Maridee's problems come from emotional problems, from physical problems and that he is very sorry, of course, that any of this happened."
Paonessa also spoke, saying she began seeing Bauer in April 2004, a few months after he and Costanzo separated. She asked that the judge not be lenient.
"I've known Roger for a little over a year and the harassment and torment on a constant level has been nonstop," Paonessa said. "The only time it stopped was when she was incarcerated."
She said Costanzo would leave threatening phone and written messages. "You can't even imagine what it feels like to have someone do this to you on a constant, constant basis."
Paonessa said that if it wasn't for the FBI intervening, "it [the murder] would have happened." She said her life and the lives of her children and Bauer were threatened.
Doughten told the judge that his client had attempted suicide but is now stabilized. He said that if the kill plot had gone through she thought it would be "like a machine she could turn off and Roger would be fine."
A sentencing memorandum filed by Matthew B. Kall and Ann C. Rowland, assistant U.S. attorneys, outlined Costanzo's plan to have Bauer killed during a trip in May to Florida with his girlfriend. The plot extended to the girlfriend, if necessary.
The sentencing document also discussed Costanzo's mental state, drug use -- cocaine and OxyContin painkillers -- and an attack on her mother during a car trip to Florida in November 2004.
The plot to kill Bauer came to light in March when William D. Cindea, 56, of Warren spilled what he knew to the FBI and agreed to wear a wire to record conversations he had with Costanzo. Cindea said Costanzo tried to hire him to kill Bauer or find someone else to do it.
Cindea's cooperation emerged after he and Costanzo were arrested at 12:30 a.m. March 19 by Howland police during a routine traffic stop. Cindea, a convicted felon prohibited from being around firearms, didn't have a valid license and there were two loaded guns in the car -- one tucked in Costanzo's pants.
Earlier that night, Cindea had driven Costanzo around looking for Bauer because she wanted to kill him. She'd already broken windows at her husband's house.
When they didn't find Bauer at home, they drove to Alberini's Restaurant on U.S. Route 422 and saw Bauer's car parked in the lot. Costanzo, through cell phone calls made to Bauer by Cindea, concluded that her husband was not at the restaurant but with his girlfriend in Newton Falls and wanted to go there.
Costanzo, on the drive away from the restaurant, said she wanted to go back and slash the tires on her husband's car. Cindea turned around but they spotted a cruiser and left again.
That's when Howland police stopped them as they drove on 422. Costanzo's two dogs were also in the car.
"Throughout the evening, Cindea tried to talk [Costanzo] out of killing Bauer," the government said. Had it not been for his efforts and the "fortuitous arrest" by Howland police, Costanzo could have succeeded in killing her husband and his girlfriend, the government said.
Prosecutors said Costanzo promised Cindea a share in her marital assets and offered to pay a hit man $10,000 if Cindea had to find someone else to kill Bauer. Cindea told the FBI he had, for several months prior to March, been supplying Costanzo with OxyContin and powdered cocaine.
Cindea told the FBI that Costanzo wanted Bauer dead because he cheated on her, caused her problems with the IRS and took business away from her.
Cindea pleaded guilty in federal court to being a felon in possession of a weapon. He will be sentenced in September.
Costanzo has charges of carrying a concealed weapon, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering pending in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court from the March traffic stop. Federal prosecutors said it is their understanding that any sentence would run concurrent with the time imposed by Judge Dowd.