Eye surgeon murder-plot trial begins

February 4, 2011

By Jennifer Sullivan

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Read the latest on the case here.

His laser-eye-surgery business and personal life were crumbling, so an angry Dr. Michael Mockovak wasn’t beyond inappropriate outbursts, according to his lawyer.

It was one such outburst, an “immature joke” about hiring the Russian mafia to kill his business partner, that has landed the Newcastle resident and Clearly Lasik co-founder in court, accused of hatching a murder-for-hire plot against his one-time partner, lawyer Colette Tvedt said Jan. 18.

During the first day of testimony in Mockovak’s trial, jurors heard the frustration and anger from Mockovak himself — in taped recordings between him and a former Clearly Lasik employee. But his comments were viewed in entirely different lights by Tvedt and King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Mary Barbosa.

Dr. Michael Mockovak (center) appears in the courtroom of Judge Palmer Robinson on Jan. 18. Mockovak is accused of a murder-for-hire plot.

In the scratchy recordings, Mockovak can be heard telling the employee about a life-insurance policy he had on his business partner, Dr. Joseph King. Mockovak can also be heard telling the man about King’s future travel plans to Australia, as well as the times an assassin would likely find King alone during his vacation.

Barbosa, in her opening statement, said that Mockovak and King each had a $4 million life-insurance policy on each other as part of their business.

She also said Mockovak believed the employee could put him in touch with a hit man for the Russian mafia.

But Tvedt insisted the employee, a man who was apparently eager to work with the FBI, entrapped Mockovak, pushing him to move forward with the scheme.

Mockovak is on trial on two counts of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree theft and attempted first-degree theft.

In the charges, filed shortly after Mockovak’s 2009 arrest, prosecutors said Mockovak was willing to pay more than $100,000 to have King and former company President Brad Klock killed. Mockovak called King “greedy” for his apparent plans to split the company and thought King was taking advantage of him, the charges said. Mockovak was apparently mad at Klock for suing the company after he was fired, prosecutors said.

Mockovak solicited Daniel Kultin, an employee who had immigrated from Russia, to arrange the slayings, prosecutors said. Kultin reported Mockovak’s alleged scheme to the FBI, and the agency hired Kultin to work as a confidential informant, according to testimony.

Kultin was outfitted with a “body wire,” a small, discreet recording device, and given a story to tell Mockovak, according to court testimony.

Kultin, formerly the computer tech at Clearly Lasik, told Mockovak that he had a childhood friend who worked for a Russian mobster, Tvedt said. Kultin said that his friend would kill King in exchange for cash.

But Tvedt told jurors that Kultin, 34, pushed her client into the scheme. Tvedt said the recordings show that her client was “induced” and “persuaded” into the plan by Kultin.

Tvedt said Kultin was ambitious to work with the FBI.

“This case started with an immature joke,” Tvedt said in her opening statement. “If it wasn’t for Daniel Kultin and his ambitions … those words would have never turned into a crime.”

The plan was for Mockovak to pay the assassin $25,000 while the informant would earn $100,000 for arranging the slayings, charging papers said.

On Nov. 7, 2009, Mockovak met the informant in Tukwila, where he paid him $10,000 cash and gave him a photo of King, charging papers said. Mockovak was arrested five days later at the Coal Creek YMCA.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com.

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