BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland announced on Friday that a Baltimore County man has pleaded guilty to federal charges for a murder-for-hire conspiracy and extortion.

According to prosecutors, 62-year-old Robert Mercaldo Jr. of Timonium loaned a Baltimore County restaurant owner more than $1 million between 2008 and 2017. When the owner stopped making payments in 2019, Mercaldo hired another man to smash the windows of the restaurant owner’s car and burn his house. They later plotted to kill him.

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During an April 2019 interview with Baltimore County police, Mercaldo claimed he was also being threatened and said he got the money he loaned to the victim from a Michigan man. He also told investigators the windows on his Mercedes had been smashed but didn’t report the incident to police.

In August 2019, the co-conspirator set the restauranteur’s house on fire, causing more than $302,000 in damages. The man and his wife were able to escape with the family cat.

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Mercaldo and his accomplice later began discussing a plot to murder the restaurant owner. Authorities said in November of 2019, he texted his co-conspirator, “Nail em plz !!”

The co-conspirator surveilled the restauranteur’s businesses and residence — taking pictures and videos. In two of the videos, he filmed himself holding two different handguns in his vehicle.

Mercaldo and the co-conspirator continued conversations about the restaurant owner and his debt up until May 2020. He was arrested in June of that year and indicted in September.

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Mercaldo faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for the murder-for-hire conspiracy and a maximum of 20 years for extortion. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 28.

CBS Baltimore Staff