BALTIMORE (AP) — A Maryland man was sentenced to 12 years in prison Thursday for his role in a plot to kill a restaurant owner and his partner over an unpaid debt, a federal prosecutor said.

According to his plea agreement and other court documents, Stepfen Gerard Gaither, 30, of Randallstown was hired by co-defendant Clement Robert Mercaldo, Jr. to send messages threatening victims and their families to extort money, said U.S. Attorney for Maryland Erek L. Barron.

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Between 2008 and 2017, Mercaldo, a former restaurant owner, loaned over $1 million to the victim, who made payments until 2019, when he was unable to make further payments, the news release said. Gaither smashed the victim’s car windows, then sent anonymous texts threatening him and his wife. A phone call involved a threat to the victim’s son, prosecutors said.

In 2019, a basement window was broken at the victim’s home and a flammable liquid was ignited. The victim and his wife escaped without injury.

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Months later, Mercaldo and Gaither began discussing the murder of one or both of the victims for their lack of payment.

Gaither and Mercaldo were arrested in June 2020. Mercaldo, 62, of Timonium pleaded guilty to his role in the plot in August, but died before his sentencing.

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