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Playing Their Hand

Two would-be hit men strike a deal in Jeffco.

Both men accused of hatching a murder-by-snake plot to kill Amateur Poker Tour owner Matt Sowash have now pleaded guilty to extortion in exchange for having the most serious charges against them dropped. Herb Beck and Christopher Steelman were arrested in August, charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and extortion, and held in the Jefferson County Jail on $500,000 bonds ("All Bets Are Off," September 27).

Beck had invested money with the Wheat Ridge-based company, which hosted free poker games at bars, and hired Steelman as a private detective because he believed Sowash was hiding money. The two then allegedly plotted to kill Sowash or extort money from him, and sent him a series of threatening e-mails. But Steelman also went to Sowash separately to warn him, and later cooperated with law-enforcement investigators — even recounting ideas for killing Sowash that the men had discussed. One of these scenarios involved trapping Sowash's legs inside a box filled with rattlesnakes.

In September, Steelman's bond was reduced to $10,000, and the murder and kidnapping charges were dropped as part of an agreement reached with prosecutors.

On November 16, Beck received a similar deal. By pleading guilty to extortion, the other charges against him were dropped and his bond was reduced to $25,000. On Monday, Steelman also pleaded guilty to extortion. Beck is scheduled to be sentenced January 22, Steelman on February 4. Both men are out on bond. While there is no mandatory prison sentence for these charges, they could each face two to six years in prison.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is still investigating the Amateur Poker Tour itself for possible securities fraud.

 
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