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A St. George man on trial for allegedly trying to hire a hit man to kill witnesses and a federal prosecutor connected to an Idaho drug case took the stand in his own defense on Monday, claiming he was entrapped by an undercover FBI agent who offered to carry out the murders.
Kelly J. Polatis, 41, was indicted on four counts of witness tampering and 13 counts of using interstate commerce in the commission of a murder-for-hire and faces a maximum of 250 years in federal prison if convicted by a jury in Salt Lake City's federal court.
According to court documents, 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, 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 is accused of traveling 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.
But 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 who was drunk every time he spoke to Rogers, and 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.
"I knew that if I didn't pay the money, there was nothing going through," Polatis said of the plot. "I was scared. I was way drunk. I don't know what I was saying."
Polatis' testimony was disputed by prosecutors, who allege the man has a violent temper and intended to kill witnesses, a prosecutor and, later on, Rogers.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Veda 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 he drinking daily.
Polatis testified that he didn't remember making the statements taped by the FBI at the casino, including remarks in which Polatis told Rogers, "It would look really funny if every [person] ... that's testifying against me gets dead."
Travis 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.
Jurors will begin to deliberate on the evidence presented during the six-day trial before U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups following closing arguments in the case this week.