Louisiana millionaire pleads guilty in wife’s kidnapping

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — A millionaire businessman in Louisiana has pleaded guilty to having his estranged wife abducted in a scheme that ended when the suspected kidnappers drowned while trying to flee from an officer who saw them driving down an interstate shoulder.

Lawrence Michael Handley, 53, accepted a plea deal Monday evening before 15th Judicial District Court Judge Scott Privat, The Advocate reported. Under the terms negotiated, all sentences are to be served concurrently, with the longest possible being 35 years, Privat said.

Handley pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree kidnapping — one of them reduced from a charge that could have brought a life sentence — and one of attempted second-degree kidnapping, according to The Advocate.

Prosecutors agreed to drop two conspiracy charges, one to commit second-degree murder and one to commit aggravated kidnapping, and one of violating a protective order, the report said. They also reduced an aggravated kidnapping charge to second-degree kidnapping.

A sentencing date will be set after a pre-sentencing investigation.

Handley has been jailed in Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish since August 2017, when he was arrested on charges accusing him of hiring two men from Jackson, Mississippi, to kidnap his wife earlier that week.

The men, Sylvester Bracy and Arsenio Haynes, both 27, tried to get around a traffic jam by driving on the shoulder of Interstate 10. Authorities said they drowned after apparently jumping into the Intracoastal Waterway while trying to elude an off-duty sheriff’s deputy.

Authorities said Handley’s wife was found alive in the van abandoned by the two men.

At Monday’s court appearance, Handley sat calmly in shackles and striped jumpsuit while other cases were handled and his lawyers and prosecutors negotiated. He had a long gray beard and shoulder-length graying hair.

Each kidnapping charge carries a possible sentence of 15 to 35 years, with a maximum of 20 for the attempted kidnapping charge, Privat said.

Prosecutor Donald Knecht said the agreement assures a substantial prison sentence and ends a widespread and complex case that involved multiple law enforcement agencies from two states and many witnesses.

“The most important thing in a plea over a trial is there are no appeals,” he said.

Defense attorney Kevin Stockstill said Handley’s attorneys were confident they could counter prosecution arguments, but a life sentence was on the table and they wanted to ensure Handley has a shot at life after prison.

Handley was a tech millionaire by the time he was 30, but began drinking heavily, lost most of his money and was barred from seeing his children, The Advertiser has reported.

After that, he helped launch companies that sold vitamins, energy supplements and calcium creams, and founded the Townsend Recovery treatment centers. That chain sold in 2015 in a deal worth more than $21 million.

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