Steamboat Springs Real estate developer and part-time Steamboat Springs resident Brooks Kellogg signed off on a plea deal Thursday that recommends six years in prison for his involvement in a murder-for-hire plot. Sentencing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. June 30 in Denver.
Kellogg pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver to one charge of interstate travel in commission of murder-for-hire. That charge carries a maximum penalty of as many as 10 years imprisonment, a fine of as much as $250,000, and as many as three years of supervised release, all of which U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello could impose in sentencing. She also could impose less severe penalties.
The plea deal and its six-year recommendation is an agreement between federal prosecutors and
Kellogg’s defense team, led by Denver lawyer Larry Pozner. The agreement drops four of the counts against Kellogg.
Pozner declined to comment after the hearing Thursday, citing the pending sentencing. Gail Kellogg, Brooks’ wife, also declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday.
The plea deal states that prosecutors won’t oppose the lesser sentence for the charge “based upon the defendant’s personal characteristics and background” before the offense. Kellogg had no prior criminal history.
But Thursday’s events show that Kellogg acknowledged his role in an effort to kill Florida developer Stephen Bunyard after losing multimillion-dollar litigation related to real estate deals near the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
According to The Denver Post, Pozner told Arguello on Thursday that he thought the plea deal was in Kellogg’s best interest, despite the “illegality of the government’s conduct” in the arrest.
The Post reported that Kellogg stood beside Pozner in court, wearing a beige prison jumpsuit.
When Arguello asked Kellogg whether he was pleading guilty because he is guilty of the alleged crime, Kellogg responded, “I am.”
Kellogg’s defense team had filed for dismissal in February and stated the murder-for-hire effort was engineered by Barbara Blackmore, a 47-year-old Clifton woman, former Oak Creek resident who said she was Kellogg’s mistress.
Authorities have acknowledged Blackmore’s role in the plot.
“The original idea was that Stephen Bunyard was to be beaten up badly enough to require hospitalization,” stated documents released Thursday with the plea agreement. “Barbara Blackmore introduced the idea of killing Stephen Bunyard, and the defendant agreed with and sought to implement such an outcome.”
Kellogg, 72, was charged with three counts of use of interstate travel in the commission of murder-for-hire, one count of solicitation to commit a crime of violence and one count of travel with intent that murder be committed.
If Kellogg had been convicted on all five counts, he could have been sentenced to as much as $1.25 million in fines and, effectively, the rest of his life in prison.
Kellogg was arrested Oct. 19 in a concourse at Denver International Airport on suspicion of trying to pay for Bunyard’s killing.
Federal authorities say Kellogg met with an undercover agent who was posing as a contract killer at a DIA terminal and handed the agent $2,000 for expenses related to the killing.
Kellogg, from Chicago, is a managing member of Chadwick Real Estate Group in Steamboat Springs and owns the Old Pilot Building, 1041 Lincoln Ave. He also owns a house overlooking Rollingstone Ranch Golf Club.
In June 2010, Bunyard’s First Land Development won a $2.38 million judgment against Chadwick Estates and Kellogg. The judgment could reach $2.5 million with interest.
Legal proceedings and collection efforts related to that judgment are ongoing.
The documents with Thursday’s plea agreement primarily reiterate evidence detailed in an FBI affidavit released last year, but they also shed new light on the circumstances surrounding the plot.
Thursday’s documents state, for example, that an individual referred to as “RF” authorized a $6,000 wire transfer in September from an account tied to Kellogg and Chadwick entities to an account used by Blackmore and a man named Rickie Strong. According to federal authorities, Blackmore told Kellogg that Strong, her husband, would conduct the killing. Authorities state that Strong had no knowledge of Blackmore’s actions.
Kellogg’s business partner, Richard Friedman of Chadwick Real Estate Group and other entities, has consistently denied having any knowledge of the circumstances that led to Kellogg’s arrest. Testimony given Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court supported Friedman’s statements.
On Thursday, Friedman acknowledged that he was the “RF” referred to in the documents, but he denied any knowledge of what the $6,000 wire transfer would be used for.
“I get requests from Brooks wherever he is, to wire to whoever, whenever, and I don’t question it — it’s just money,” Friedman said Thursday. “I don’t even know who Rickie Strong is and I never heard the name until this whole thing came up.”
Thursday’s documents indicate that Kellogg asked “RF” for Bunyard’s photo and address in addition to the transfer. The information was to be passed along to the hired hit man.
Friedman said the trio of requests, coming after the litigation last summer, did not raise any red flags, or even questions, in his mind.
“You should see all the emails I get. Brooks and I have a very trusting relationship,” Friedman said. “We don’t share our personal thoughts, and I don’t question him, and that’s the relationship we have.”
The FBI said last year that it was not pursuing any investigation of potential involvement by Friedman.
Friedman expressed sorrow after learning about Thursday’s plea agreement.
“Brooks was and still is a friend and a colleague, and I have a hard time believing that what happened even happened,” Friedman said.
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com