Sussex County, N.J. -- Three of the five Vernon County men charged in a strange 2010 kidnapping case were in court again yesterday. Lonnie Swarnes, Douglas Stangeland and William Barger all made an appearance in a Sussex County, N.J., Superior Court room on Monday, in connection with the bungled kidnapping case of New Jersey pet food dealer Jeffrey Muller.
Authorities in New Jersey said that a "plea offer was extended to both" Stangeland and Swarnes, but attorneys for the two men "rejected" the offer. There has been no such offer made to William "Billy" Barger and the offer to the other men is not going to improve. What the deal proffered to Stangeland and Swarnes was a sentence of 23 years in prison for a plea of guilty to unspecified charges, according to a court authority.
Another man in the case, Andrew Wadel, 22, of Rich Hill, pleaded guilty in a Sussex County, N.J., courtroom last week to one count of first degree kidnapping and three lesser charges. Wadel admitted in court to being the man who "Tased" Muller when he was abducted from in front of his Newton, N.J., pet food store in January 2010. Prosecutors have said they will recommend a sentence of 18 years in the state penitentiary when he is sentenced in a hearing set for June 10.
Roy Slates was the last of the five men arrested in the case and the last to be extradited to New Jersey. On Dec. 16, Slates pleaded guilty to second degree conspiracy to commit theft by extortion and was released on a personal recognizance bond. He agreed to cooperate in further prosecutions. Authorities said that Slates could be sentenced to up to 10 years when he is sentenced in June.
This unusual story began in January 2010 when Swarnes, Stangeland and Wadel, believing that Muller was a money broker involved in a land deal gone bad, drove to Newton, N. J., and kidnapped him from his pet food store. The trio was returning to Missouri with their victim when their car broke down in Lake Ozark, Mo.
While the car was parked at a convenience store and the men were trying to fix it, Muller tried to escape and was seen by a store clerk. The clerk call the police and the subsequent arrests and the following investigation of the crime made the arrest of two other Vernon County men possible.
Slates returned to Nevada to face charges in the Associate Circuit of Judge Neal Quitno on March 31, 2011. He is charged with one class D felony of concealing a felony and a class D felony of hindering prosecution of a felony. Slates waived his rights to a preliminary hearing and was bound over for arraignment before Circuit Judge James R. Bickel on April 12.
Stangeland and Swarnes remain in the Sussex County, New Jersey jail and Barger is being held in the Morris County jail in order to keep the three defendants separated. All three men are being held on a $750,000 cash only bond.
Court authorities said there will likely "be some passage of time" before Stangeland, Swarnes or Barger have their day in court. Their court system is backed up and the only criminal judge in the county has four murder cases in line ahead of the kidnapping case. All three men are set to appear for a pre trial conference in June.