Accused extortionists sentenced in federal court
A federal judge sentenced karate champ Gunther Blancke to two years in prison this afternoon for his role in a terror-filled shake down of a friends’ business rival. U.S. District Judge Michael Duffy gave his co-defendant, Thomas True, 70, nine years in prison.
Duffy offered some leniency towards Blancke because of his unblemished record and the expert prognosis that is unlikely he would land in trouble again, Duffy said in court.
True, on the other hand, was feisty, arguing with the judge and maintaining he had been grievously wronged by the man he tied up and tortured in his home. He denied ever theatening the victim with violence, even though he had pleaded guilty in the case.
“I never threatened him with violence,” True said.
“But you taped him to a chair in your home, didn’t you?” Duffy said.
“Yes, but that was to calm him down,” True replied.
Duffy, clearly unimpressed, sentenced him to the maximum prison term recommended under the federal sentencing guidelines.
R Blancke’s supporters pleaded with Duffy this morning to give him a second chance and let him return to his native Belguim rather than face prison time. Family and friends told Duffy that Blancke is a caring, generous and a solid citizen and should not be sent to prison for a mistake he made one night in 2010.
Blancke, 39, faced the possibility of serving 121 months in prison but his attorney, Brian Harris Bieber, asked the court to give him less jail time.
“Please judge, do not judge me for what happened that night. Look at all my life and all the good things I did for people. Please, sir, give me a chance to prove myself again to everyone,” Blancke said.
True pleaded guilty in July to one of six counts he faced for extortion in the 2010 incident.
The man he used for muscle, Blancke, went to trial shortly after the plea and was found guilty on two of six counts of extortion, each carrying a maximum 20 years behind bars.
The two men were accused of binding, beating and abusing business rival Steven Sarkela inside True’s Snee Farm home.
On the night of June 3, 2010, Sarkela, then 37, went to True’s residence with the hopes of clearing up a dispute involving liens True had placed on some Folly Beach condos.
But the discussion turned heated and Sarkela testified he was jumped by the pair. After Blancke entered the room, he reportedly took on the persona of a Russian gangster named “Ivan.”
Sarkela said he was duct-taped to a chair, threatened with a knife and scissors, and held against his will until he signed papers allowing True to receive $200,000 from a condo sale.
Over the next five days, Sarkela recorded several threatening phone conversations with True who reportedly said he would use “Ivan” again if he didn’t get paid. The recordings were done in cooperation with the FBI.
Blancke, a former European karate champion and fourth-degree black belt, had lived in Florida and Mount Pleasant where he operated a martial arts studio on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard.