TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Police suspect a South Florida love triangle provided the guns and money to kill Florida State law professor Dan Markel.
Katherine Magbanua, the woman investigators believe is the go-between for the family of Markel's ex-wife Wendi Adelson and the men suspected of killing him, was arrested Saturday in Broward County. She faces a murder charge in the 41-year-old's death. On July 18, 2014, he was shot point-blank in the head in his Betton Hills garage.
It's an arrest, court documents suggest, that could put investigators closer to the Adelsons, the wealthy owners of a Tamarac dentist office who were determined to move Markel and Wendi's two young boys from Tallahassee to South Florida. No one in the Adelson family, which includes Wendi's brother, Charlie, and parents, Donna and Harvey, has been charged with a crime.
The Tallahassee Police Department has suggested Markel's killing may have been a murder-for-hire plot driven by the Adelsons' desire to move the couple's children to South Florida. Investigators weren't able to find a link between Markel and Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera — the men charged with killing Markel — until Magbanua surfaced.
Court documents said Magbanua shares two children with Garcia, a career criminal, but was in a "personal relationship" with Charlie Adelson, a periodontist, around the time of the murder. Cell phone records show she was in constant contact with Garcia, Rivera and Charlie Adelson in the weeks and hours before the crime.
The court documents supporting her arrest, which were released by TPD on Sunday, are clear: The 31-year-old is the only apparent link between Markel and Garcia and Rivera. The trio, court documents said, "were compensated for their actions."
The 18-page probable cause affidavit, which was signed Friday, comes three weeks after State Attorney Willie Meggs said he would not approve arrests for Magbanua and Charlie Adelson. Meggs told the Tallahassee Democrat in early September there wasn't enough evidence for their arrests to hold up in court.
David Oscar Markus, the attorney for Charlie Adelson, said Magbanua's arrest "smacks of utter desperation."
"It's sad that the police have arrested Katie when just last week the prosecution said there was no basis to proceed," he said. "They are trying to pressure a single mom who has no priors by threatening to make her little kids orphans. That's not how our criminal justice system is supposed to work."
The investigators who analyzed the cell phone records in the case were able to detect a call pattern, which they said showed Magbanua as the bridge between the Adelsons and the suspected killers.
Calls among the group typically worked this way, court records said: Magbanua would call Charlie Adelson, who would call his mother Donna, while Magbanua talked to Garcia.
Two and a half weeks before the crime, investigators said there was a "flurry" of contact between "the alleged conspirators." On Sept. 1, Magbanua and Charlie Adelson's cell phones were pinpointed in the area near his home. That same day, Magbanua reached out to Garcia 48 times before getting a hold of him. They talked six minutes, and shortly after, Garcia called Harvey Adelson's cell phone, which went to voicemail.
Magbanua talked to Garcia and Charlie Adelson several times that night. At one point, Magbanua also called Harvey Adelson, a call which also went voicemail, and then called Rivera a minute later. The calls ended shortly before 1 a.m. with an 11-minute conversation between Charlie Adelson and his father.
"Investigators believe this pattern is consistent with Magbanua being the conduit during the planning of Markel's murder," investigators wrote.
Court documents say three days before the murder, the 2008 Toyota Prius investigators say was rented by Rivera to make the trip to Tallahassee to kill Markel, was in the area of Magbanua's condo in North Bay Village, a small island between Miami and Miami Beach. Garcia and Rivera's cell phones were tracked to the same area at the same time.
"This evidence shows that shortly after renting the Toyota Prius, both Garcia and Rivera met with Magbanua the night before departing for Tallahassee to commit the murder," investigators wrote.
The calls and the cash
In the lead-up to Markel's killing, the call pattern was in full effect.
The night before Markel was murdered, while Garcia and Rivera were at the Rodeway Inn hotel on North Monroe Street, Magbanua called Garcia, then Charlie. Charlie made contact with his mother shortly after 1 a.m. and then called Magbanua back a minute later.
While Markel worked out at Premier Gym, Charlie Adelson talked to his mom once and Magbanua four times. Minutes after Markel was shot, Donna Adelson would talk to her son twice. Minutes later, Charlie talked to Magbanua.
Garcia's first phone call after the killing was to Magbanua. The next morning, Magbanua met with Garcia and Rivera when they arrived in Miami. Magbanua, with Garcia and Rivera in the area, called Charlie Adelson
Just days after Markel was killed, Magbanua started receiving paychecks from the Adelson Institute for Aesthetics and Implant Dentistry, the family's dentist practice.
The checks were each for $407.58 and were handwritten and signed by Donna Adelson. Court documents said the checks looked as if they were all written at the same time, each for a 10-day pay period. According to the court documents, the checks came even though surveillance revealed that Magbanua had only been to the institute once.
Over the next 16 months, Magbanua's bank accounts ballooned by more than $56,000, mostly because of cash deposits.
Meanwhile, investigators said Charlie Adelson did all he could to keep Magbanua happy.
She drove a 2001 Lexus formerly belonging to Harvey Adelson and then bought it at a bargain price. In April of this year, Charlie Adelson bought Garcia a GoPro camera for his birthday, but Magbanua said he should have given him his Ferrari. Charlie Adelson also offered to sell Magbanua his 18-foot bay boat. He later offered her his Range Rover, titled in Harvey Adelson's name.
Garcia and Rivera also came into some money after Markel's murder. In the four weeks after the killing, Garcia bought a 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a 2000 Nissan Maxima and a 1997 Honda yellow motorcycle. The week after the murder, Rivera bought a 2003 Suzuki motorcycle. A December 2014 Facebook photo shows the two posing with their new motorcycles.
"In addition, examination of Magbanua's Facebook profile before and after the homicide show images of Magbanua with obvious breast enhancements following the murder," the probable cause statement says.
The undercover agent
Investigators complicated the relationship between the Adelsons and Magbanua when an undercover agent hand delivered to Donna Adelson a press release referring to Markel's murder and asked for $5,000.
Investigators, using electronic surveillance, tapped the Adelsons' and Magbanua's phone calls.
At lunch in a Sunny Isle strip mall on April 20, Charlie and Magbanua discuss the man who made the delivery to Donna Adelson and what he knows about the crime.
In the conversation intercepted by investigators, Charlie tells her "paying someone off is not an admission of guilt." He said he'd give her money if she called the messenger, tells him she'll donate to a charity and instructs him to never contact them again. He then suggests, if it's not a police officer, "you better kill him, because he's going to be a big problem."
He adds, "If you can't do it, I'll have someone else do it."
Magbanua asks Garcia to track down who the man might be. They begin to argue after Garcia said he wouldn't make the call. Three days later, Magbanua packs up some of her belongings in her car and leaves in the middle of the day with a gun in a tote.
Donna Adelson eventually calls back the agent, saying she had nothing to do with the death of her ex-son-in-law.
The day before Garcia was arrested on May 25, FBI agents attempted to speak with both him and Magbanua at the same time. Garcia was questioned while at work at Rapid City Funding in Miami while agents knocked on the door of their North Miami townhouse, where the couple lived with their two children. Magbanua never came out and never acknowledged the agents. Later that day, Garcia told Magbanua he was questioned about the killing. Both then bought new cell phones at Walmart and "fled" the residence that day.
Magbanua is being held on no bond in the Broward County Jail. Both Garcia and Rivera are in custody awaiting trial.