Montgomery IT manager convicted in failed plot to kill lover’s husband

April 2, 2012

Frank Cipriani, the Census Bureau IT supervisor who drew attention last year after his fake beard fell off during a failed plot to kill his lover’s husband, was convicted of attempted murder on Monday. The foiled disguise played only a minor role in the trial, overshadowed by a flurry of details that made the case among Montgomery County’s most bizarre in recent memory.

“All I could think of were the Ten Commandments,” one juror said afterward, “and how every one of them was broken.”

“One of the strangest trials I have ever seen — in this courthouse or on TV,” added Stephen Chaikin, the lead prosecutor.

Cipriani, 44, posed as a building inspector to lure his target to a home the man was having renovated in Bethesda. Alone with him inside the house and wearing the fake beard, Cipriani pulled out a gun. But a contractor showed up, the target dashed out the door and Cipriani’s plan fell apart.

Among the other details to surface during the trial: sex in a Census Bureau parking garage, party games with blind-folded players and a drive to Ohio to get a gun. It all amounted to a murder plot that was as specific as it was bungled, as comical as it was terrifying.


HANDOUT PHOTO: Frank O. Cipriani. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Police) (Courtesy of Montgomery County Police/COURTESY OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE)

Cipriani faces the possibility of life in prison — a remarkable turn for the mild-looking, married one-time contracting officer, who supervised 16 people. He speaks Italian and Spanish, recently listed “playing with my kids” as a favorite activity, and considers Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi as sources of inspiration.

His wife supported him to the end, sitting in the front row of the courtroom and watching him sadly as he was led off in handcuffs.

Cipriani is due back in court June 7 for sentencing before Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg. After the verdict, the judge said he had little doubt Cipriani intended to shoot his intended victim in the head.

Jurors were told at the start that they would be in for an interesting trial.

In her opening statement, defense attorney Jennifer Page said the affair took place in part in the Census Bureau parking garage.

“She had to change her schedule so that she could get the most remote spot in the garage so that these two lovebirds could recklessly have sex at work whenever they wanted,” Page said.

Page said the affair, and subsequent mixed signals sent by Cipriani’s lover, helped fuel is his erratic behavior. He never meant to kill the woman’s husband, just scare him.

Elements of the story she and Chaikin told, along with witnesses, go back to 2010.

At the Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, Cipriani began flirting with one of his subordinates. That led to long walks on Census grounds, lunches together and eventually, starting in March or April 2011, an affair.

“It’s hopeless. I am truly taken and smitten by you,” Cipriani wrote to her on a card submitted as evidence. “You are very special to me and I wanted to say I love you!”

In June, the woman broke off the romance but not the contact.

“She’d buy him a shirt or bring him lunch. Hope was still alive in this defendant’s mind, and that’s what drove him to do this,” Chaikin said.

Cipriani’s plan wasn’t just to kill his lover’s husband, prosecutors said. He planted a paper trail creating the illusion that the man was having an affair with a teenage girl. From his work computer, Cipriani, posing as the made-up teenager, sent a bogus electronic letter to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“Hello, my name is Danielle and please excuse me, I am a bit nervous. I am 14-years old and about a little more than a year ago I got into a relationship with an older man who is now 43,” the letter began.

The letter identified a man by name — the same man Cipriani wanted to kill.

Five jurors interviewed after the verdict expressed shock that an IT professional used his own computer for such a task. “He thought of the details but not the big picture,” said Juror No. 87A.

As part of his plan, Cipriani also wrote a suicide note that prosecutors say he intended to plant next to the corpse. The note — which prosecutors said Cipriani hoped would ruin the man’s legacy and encourage his wife to run to the comfort of Cipriani — stated that the author didn’t want to “lie anymore” and apologized for an affair with a young girl.

The morning of Aug. 17, Cipriani put his plan into motion.

At the Census Bureau headquarters, he visited a nurse to get latex gloves, claiming he had a skin condition. Using a sort of double-swiping of his security card, Cipriani left the Census Bureau but created the illusion he was still there. He called his target, pretending to be a building inspector on the way to a spot inspection.

He managed to get his target alone in a room and pointed the gun at him. But after his plan went awry, Cipriani fled. But by then his target had recognized him.

“The fact of the matter is that you don’t have to be a fool to act like an idiot,” defense lawyer Phil Armstrong said. “Much of what Mr. Cipriani did here was dumb, it was foolish, it was obsessional. But at the heart of this matter there is absolutely no proof that he acted willfully, with the actual intent to kill the victim.”

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.
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