Before getting busted at the age of 56 for bankrupting well-meaning people, Steven Audette had no criminal record. But he turned out to be a career criminal, extorting his victims over a span of 20 years.
Audette, now 59, grew up in Duluth and went to school to become a chiropractor. Shortly after graduating, he called a former classmate living in Arizona, whom police identified as S.W., asking for a loan.
S.W. agreed to help out a friend, but Audette started spinning some crazy stories about being the grandson and heir of the notorious American mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano and being on the run from the mob. He claimed to be a confidential informant for a CIA agent working on a dangerously sensitive investigation, and needed the loans to pay for state protection.
S.W. naturally had a couple of questions. So Audette raised the stakes. He told S.W. to stay quiet and keep sending money, otherwise the mob would track him down and torture him into giving up where S.W. and his family lived.
This went on for about 10 years until S.W. was broke. Desperate to cut off ties, S.W. courageously decided to pass the buck to one of his patients, a wealthy grandmother identified as L.M.
With L.M., Audette told the same stories with a horrific twist. He convinced her that if the mob ever got its hands on him, assassins would come after her and "rape and kill her grandchildren by dismemberment." If she told anyone about the dangers, she could spoil the CIA investigation and people would end up dead.
So the grandmother quietly followed her orders and kept wiring money until she too lost everything.
Police were finally tipped off when they busted a small-time pot dealer from Indiana, Ricky Roach, the brother of Audette's wife and co-conspirator, Mary Roach. Cops saw that Ricky received wire transfers of nearly $100,000 from L.M., and immediately suspected the unfortunate old lady of being part of a criminal enterprise to launder drug money. They raided L.M.'s house, where they finally got the full story.
Roach pleaded guilty, receiving three years in prison for her cooperation. Audette was found guilty and finally sentenced last week to 20 years. Throughout the trial, his lawyer John McBee maintained that Audette was mentally ill.
"Mr. Audette possesses no prior criminal convictions of any kind and is 59 years old. The fact that he was of an advanced age prior to committing his first crimes is compelling," McBee wrote to the court.
"It illustrates that there is credence in his belief – true or not – that he was required to live the life of a refugee. As Mr. Audette has noted in multiple communications with the court, he is telling the truth as he knows it to be. The defendant believes that his life is in danger, and that he must continue to elude the mafia. Certainly, a loss of over $2 million is a substantial sum. However, Mr. Audette always believed that he would eventually be able to pay the victims back, which is the reason that he kept a ledger."