Newcastle eye surgeon gets 20-year sentence for murder-for-hire plot

March 17, 2011

By Jennifer Sullivan

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UPDATED — 11:30 a.m. March 18, 2011

Dr. Michael Mockovak, co-founder of Clearly Lasik eye-surgery centers, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

COURTNEY BLETHEN RIFFKIN / THE SEATTLE TIMES — Dr. Michael Mockovak, Newcastle resident and co-founder of Clearly Lasik eye-surgery centers, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Fear of her family being gunned down by a man who was once part of their daily life has consumed Holly King for the past 16 months.

King, the mother of three and wife of successful laser eye surgeon Dr. Joseph King, said that fear prompted her to take firearms training and obsessively monitor the video-surveillance system in their Newcastle home.

“Each day, when I drive my children to school, I wonder which stranger is going to murder us,” Holly King, 32, said in King County Superior Court on March 17.

Judge Palmer Robinson granted the couple some relief from that fear by sentencing Dr. Michael Mockovak to 20 years in prison for plotting to kill Dr. King, his ex-brother-in-law, longtime friend and fellow co-founder of the Clearly Lasik laser eye-surgery centers.

Last month, a King County jury found Mockovak guilty of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree theft and attempted first-degree theft. Jurors acquitted Mockovak of a second count of criminal solicitation involving former company President Brad Klock.

Mockovak insisted that he was only kidding when he asked a Clearly Lasik employee in 2009 to find a Russian assassin to kill King, according to his defense lawyers. During Thursday’s three-hour sentencing hearing, Mockovak’s lawyers said his irrational behavior was the result of stress from a contentious divorce and from emotional trauma suffered when he was sexually assaulted as a child.

The defense also blamed the Clearly Lasik employee who talked to Mockovak, a man who later worked as an FBI informant in the case, for luring an emotionally vulnerable man into the murder-for-hire scheme.

But Senior Deputy Prosecutor Mary Barbosa said that Mockovak was focused on having King killed because their business was crumbling. She said the Yale-educated surgeon could have left the business and started over somewhere else, but he was driven to kill King.

Mockovak, 52, didn’t speak during Thursday’s sentencing hearing. His lawyers, Jeffery Robinson and Colette Tvedt, talked about how Mockovak grew up poor and endured years of abuse at the hands of his uncle, a man who was later convicted of sexual assault.

“Our position is that his anger, his depression, his suspicion that people are conspiring against him come from his history of being abused over and over,” Robinson said.

Robinson asked the judge to give Mockovak a severely reduced sentence of anywhere from two to five years in prison. Afterward, Robinson said he plans to appeal the 20-year sentence.

“I’ve been kind and trusting with the wrong man,” Joseph King, 43, said in court Thursday. “I entered a business partnership with a charming sociopath.”

In the criminal charges, filed shortly after Mockovak’s 2009 arrest, prosecutors said that Mockovak was willing to pay more than $100,000 to have King and Klock killed. Mockovak was apparently angry with Klock for suing the company after he was fired, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Mockovak wanted King dead because he believed King wanted to split the company and thought his partner was taking advantage of him. The eye-surgery centers, with clinics throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, reported earnings of $17 million in 2007, but that figure had dipped to $10 million in 2008, charging documents said.

Mockovak solicited Daniel Kultin, a Clearly Lasik employee who had immigrated from Russia, to arrange the slayings, prosecutors said during his trial. Mockovak believed Kultin could put him in touch with a hit man for the Russian mafia, prosecutors said.

But Kultin reported Mockovak’s scheme to the FBI, which hired him to work as a confidential informant, according to testimony during the two-week trial.

The plan was for Mockovak to pay the assassin $25,000, while Kultin would earn $100,000 for arranging the slayings, according to the charges.

On Nov. 7, 2009, Mockovak met Kultin 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.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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

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