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Masked intruder pleads guilty to 2007 attack on Connecticut arts patron and fake virus threat

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Masked intruder pleads guilty to 2007 attack on Connecticut arts patron and fake virus threat
News

News

Masked intruder pleads guilty to 2007 attack on Connecticut arts patron and fake virus threat

2024-06-26 06:33 Last Updated At:06:40

The last of three masked men pleaded guilty to a failed attempt to extort $8.5 million from a wealthy Connecticut arts patron and her companion by threatening them with a deadly virus in a 2007 home invasion.

The 38-year-old Romanian citizen, Stefan Alexandru Barabas, had been on the run for about 15 years before finally being arrested as a fugitive in Hungary in 2022. He pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion, federal prosecutors announced.

Barabas is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 11 and could receive six to seven years in prison, if a plea agreement is accepted by the court, prosecutors said.

Three additional men in the case have already been convicted, including the two other masked intruders who prosecutors said entered the home in South Kent with Barabas brandishing fake guns. The men then bound and blindfolded millionaire philanthropist Anne Hendricks Bass and abstract artist Julian Lethbridge, injected them with a substance they claimed was a deadly virus and demanded the couple pay the $8.5 million or else be left to die.

After it became clear Bass and Lethbridge weren't able to meet their demands, the men drugged the couple with a sleeping aid and fled in Bass' Jeep Cherokee, prosecutors said.

The SUV was found abandoned at a Home Depot in New Rochelle, New York the next morning. Days later, an accordion case with a stun gun, 12-inch knife, a black plastic replica gun, a crowbar, syringes, sleeping pills, latex gloves and a laminated telephone card with the South Kent address was found washed ashore in Jamaica Bay, New York.

The accordion case and knife were eventually connected to the men, as well as a partial Pennsylvania license plate seen by a witness near Bass' estate on the night of the home invasion, among other evidence.

Bass, credited with helping to raise the profile of ballet in the U.S., died in 2020. She was 78.

In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Lethbridge said: “This has been an extremely long and arduous process. I am grateful for the professionalism and dogged work of various law enforcement authorities to bring these individuals to justice."

"That said, I remain convinced based on the sophistication of the crime, as well as other facts, that there are others who participated in the planning and financing of this crime who have yet to be brought to book," he said. "It is my continued hope that one day all who were involved will be known and that they too will be held to account.”

In 2012, during the trial of Emanuel Nicolescu, one of the intruders and Bass' former house manager that she had fired, Bass tearfully described thinking she was going to die the night the three men burst into the home she shared with Lethbridge.

Bass said she was taking care of her 3-year-old grandson that weekend and had just put the boy to bed when the break-in occurred, according to news reports.

“I heard war cries, a terrifying sound. I saw three men, dressed in black, charging up the stairs, almost like they were in military formation,” she testified.

She said the intruders then grabbed her, threw her onto the floor and tied up both she and Lethbridge. The men then injected the couple with a substance that turned out to be a benign liquid, according to news reports. Bass said the men had guns and knives but she never saw their faces during the hours-long ordeal.

Bass testified how she was traumatized for months by the attack, noting how she and Lethbridge had previously enjoyed spending weekends at the countryside home.

“Before the home invasion,” she said, “I felt quite comfortable being there by myself. I can’t stay there by myself anymore.”

FILE - Anne Hendricks Bass is photographed attending the 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art gala and studio party, Oct. 19, 2009, in New York. The last of three masked men who claimed to have injected the wealthy Connecticut arts patron and her companion with a deadly virus pleaded guilty Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in connection to the 2007 home invasion. It was part of a failed attempt to extort $8.5 million in exchange for a supposed antidote from millionaire philanthropist Bass and abstract artist Julian Lethbridge. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)

FILE - Anne Hendricks Bass is photographed attending the 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art gala and studio party, Oct. 19, 2009, in New York. The last of three masked men who claimed to have injected the wealthy Connecticut arts patron and her companion with a deadly virus pleaded guilty Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in connection to the 2007 home invasion. It was part of a failed attempt to extort $8.5 million in exchange for a supposed antidote from millionaire philanthropist Bass and abstract artist Julian Lethbridge. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)

FILE - Anne Hendricks Bass is photographed attending the 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art gala and studio party, Oct. 19, 2009, in New York. The last of three masked men who claimed to have injected the wealthy Connecticut arts patron and her companion with a deadly virus pleaded guilty Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in connection to the 2007 home invasion. It was part of a failed attempt to extort $8.5 million in exchange for a supposed antidote from millionaire philanthropist Bass and abstract artist Julian Lethbridge. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)

FILE - Anne Hendricks Bass is photographed attending the 2009 Whitney Museum of American Art gala and studio party, Oct. 19, 2009, in New York. The last of three masked men who claimed to have injected the wealthy Connecticut arts patron and her companion with a deadly virus pleaded guilty Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in connection to the 2007 home invasion. It was part of a failed attempt to extort $8.5 million in exchange for a supposed antidote from millionaire philanthropist Bass and abstract artist Julian Lethbridge. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A closely watched measure of inflation in Argentina was stronger than the libertarian government of President Javier Milei would have hoped on Friday, as the official statistics agency reported prices edging up in June and breaking a months-long streak of declines.

Argentina's consumer price index rose 4.6% in June, slightly up from the rate of 4.2% in May, ending a five-month trend of cooling inflation that experts had attributed to a deepening recession brought about by Milei's harsh austerity. The International Monetary Fund predicts a 2.8% contraction this year.

President Milei has touted the falling prices over recent months as a victory in his fight against Argentina’s worst economic crisis in over two decades.

After Milei took office in December, monthly inflation peaked at 25%. But the price drop since hasn't offered much relief to ordinary Argentines as Milei presses on with a radical economic overhaul that involves slashing generous energy subsidies, scrapping price controls and devaluing the Argentine peso.

“The world that the government lives in, with all these numbers saying the economy is great, it's a fantasy,” said 34-year-old taxi driver Jose Rafael in Buenos Aires. “In the real world, this economy makes it really hard to feed my son.”

Friday’s government report showed Argentina’s annual inflation slowing a bit to just over 271% — still among the highest rates in the world.

Surging electricity and gas prices accounted for most of June's inflationary spike, the statistics agency said. Argentines have reported eye-watering utility bills after years of paying highly subsidized rates under left-leaning governments.

In stark contrast to Milei's program, those past Peronist administrations fixed prices and printed billions of dollars’ worth of pesos to fund a large deficit — fueling chronically high inflation.

Under Milei, Argentina's energy ministry reported in June that low-income households that previously paid just 5% of the real cost of electricity have started paying a third of it while middle-income households now cover at least half following Milei's removal of subsidies.

The government has also capped electricity consumption to qualify for subsidies, squeezing families as a cold front sweeps Argentina during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.

The country's cost of living surged nearly 80% in the first five months of 2024 compared to the same period last year, the report also said. Prices in Buenos Aires shops and restaurants have reached levels comparable to the United States, even as the country offers just a fraction of the wages.

In another warning sign, the peso fell Friday to another record low against the dollar, hitting 1,500 on the black market and capping another week of volatility after holding steady in the first few months of the year.

The steep fall in Argentina’s currency means the closely watched gap between the black market rate and the official exchange rate, currently 919 pesos to the dollar, has widened to over 60%. That complicates Milei's goal of eventually lifting Argentina's strict currency controls to restore investor confidence.

Milei wants the IMF — to which Argentina already owes a staggering $44 billion — to step in with a new loan to support his plans to remove capital controls, which cause major distortions in Argentina’s economy.

But as uncertainty remains over the future of Milei's economic program, the IMF dampened expectations of a new deal on Thursday.

“The staff will engage in discussions on a possible new arrangement as we would with any IMF member," the fund's spokesperson, Julie Kozack, told reporters when asked about the state of negotiations. "At this stage, there is no specific timeline for those discussions.”

FILE - Argentine President Javier Milei walks arm-in-arm with Vice President Victoria Villarruel during Independence Day celebrations, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 9, 2024. Argentina's consumer price index report released Friday, July 12, 2024, showed Argentina’s annual inflation slowing a bit to just over 271% — still among the highest rates in the world. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

FILE - Argentine President Javier Milei walks arm-in-arm with Vice President Victoria Villarruel during Independence Day celebrations, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 9, 2024. Argentina's consumer price index report released Friday, July 12, 2024, showed Argentina’s annual inflation slowing a bit to just over 271% — still among the highest rates in the world. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

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