Posted On:7/28/2010 10:45am
Mount Pleasant developer and a martial arts expert pleaded not guilty in alleged torture
A Mount Pleasant developer and a martial arts expert pleaded not guilty to extortion charges Tuesday in connection with the alleged torture of a business rival over proceeds from a condominium sale.
Developer Thomas True, 64, and martial arts master Gunther Blancke, 37, of Florida, entered the pleas during an arraignment in U.S. District Court in Charleston. Each face one count of conspiracy to commit extortion by wrongful use of force and five counts of attempted extortion.
The pair are accused of holding Greer developer Steven Sarkela prisoner in True's Snee Farm home for more than three hours on June 3.
Sarkela told the FBI that the pair strapped him to a chair and repeatedly punched and threatened him with broken glass, a knife and scissors until he signed documents turning over proceeds from a Folly Beach condo sale to True.
The two men, both dressed in gray suits, said nothing during the brief appearance, allowing their attorneys to speak for them. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant allowed the pair to remain free on existing bonds while awaiting trial.
Both men were arrested by the FBI last month. True was released after posting $200,000 bail. Blancke, who was arrested in Florida, put up his house as collateral to secure a $135,000 bond to guarantee his release.
Brady Hair, an attorney for True, asked Marchant to dispense with a requirement that Blancke be subject to electronic monitoring while awaiting trial. He said the requirement interferes with Blancke's ability to travel to teach martial arts.
Blancke, who has a studio in Mount Pleasant, lives in Palm Beach, Fla., and has no plans to return to South Carolina unless the case requires it, Hair said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart opposed the motion, saying prosecutors have been unable to reach the victim about the requested change because he is spending a month in Europe. Marchant took no action on Blancke's request.
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