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St. George man found guilty of 14 counts in murder-for-hire plot

Published July 21, 2011 10:11 am

Court • Kelly Polatis faces up to life in prison for trying to kill witnesses.
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A federal jury in Salt Lake City on Wednesday found a St. George man of guilty of 14 of 17 counts for a murder-for-hire plot to kill several witnesses and a federal prosecutor connected to a drug case filed against him in Idaho.

Kelly J. Polatis, 41, faces prison terms of up to 30 years on four counts and a maximum of 10 years on the others when he is sentenced Sept. 30 by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups.

The verdict came following a seven-day trial and two days of jury deliberations.

According to court documents and trial evidence, Polatis tried to hire a hit man to kill five people slated to testify against him in a federal court case in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in which Polatis was implicated in a massive marijuana growing operation. Polatis was acquitted on drug charges in April 2010, but never made it out of the courtroom ­— he was charged for orchestrating the murder-for-hire plot the same day as his acquittal.

Polatis traveled to Las Vegas in 2009 to meet with a hit man — actually undercover FBI agent Greg Rogers — who promised to kill the witnesses.

At a meeting at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, Polatis and Rogers were taped discussing how Rogers could complete the hits. Polatis offered $30,000 to Rogers to complete the task — $15,000 up front and $15,000 when the job was completed, according to testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Veda Travis focused on recordings of Polatis with Rogers during her closing arguments on Tuesday.

She said Polatis' statements on the recordings show he knew he was talking to a hit man and intended to hire someone to kill his enemies. She called the case one in which Polatis was willing to go to any length to make sure the Idaho drug case against him didn't proceed, including efforts to kill all involved with the case.

"He can't get around his own words. He can't get around his own behavior," Travis said.

Polatis, who took the stand in his own defense, as well as his defense attorney, claimed he was entrapped by the undercover FBI agent.

Polatis testified Monday that he was merely "playing along" with Rogers. He said he was afraid of Rogers because he believed the man would harm him if he didn't go through with paying for the hits. Polatis added that Rogers told him that his "boss" often ordered him to beat people up as a way to get them to pay debts.

Polatis also said he is an alcoholic and was drunk every time he spoke to Rogers, that the conversation shouldn't have been taken seriously and that he never intended to go through with the plan. He said he drank seven alcoholic beverages, including four drinks in 45 minutes, the day the two met at the casino.

"He explained to me that people who screw around with him, he breaks their legs," Polatis said of Rogers. "I didn't want him to go back to his people," he said.

Polatis said he offered Rogers $3,000 "for his time," and hoped the money would keep Rogers from beating him up and stop the discussions about killing witnesses. Polatis said Rogers made it clear to him that if he didn't put up the $15,000, nothing would happen.

Since Polatis never gave Rogers the money, he believed the witnesses wouldn't be in danger, he testified.

Travis disputed Polatis' claims that he was too drunk to remember his dealings with Rogers, noting that Polatis apparently was able to complete complex business transactions related to developments and a mortgage company while drinking daily. She called his alleged substance-abuse problem "a fabrication" he created to cover up his misdeeds.

Travis showed jurors a cocktail napkin on which Polatis had Rogers scribble the names of the potential victims that Polatis wanted dead. Polatis asked Rogers to write on the napkin because he "did not want this damning piece of evidence in his handwriting," Travis said.

She also reiterated testimony from Rogers, who said Polatis did not appear drunk or incoherent during their meeting at the casino.

Following the jury's decision, U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen said she was happy with the verdict.

"We're pleased with the jury's verdict and believe they reached an appropriate result. The defendant's conduct here not only threatened the lives and personal safety of witness and prosecutors but also undermined the integrity of our justice system. This office cannot and will not allow threats of violence or intimidation to prevent witnesses from fulfilling their responsibilities to appear and testify in court or to prevent prosecutors from carrying out their legal responsibilities," Christensen said.

mrogers@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mrogers_trib