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(Tribune News Service) — An ex-U. S. Army Ranger from Connecticut faces extradition to the Netherlands where authorities say he was part of a plot by former and active duty American soldiers who hired themselves out as a professional hit squad and murdered a German businessman.

Jacob Mazeika grew up in Bristol and was living in New Haven when federal marshals picked him up last spring at the request of the government of the Netherlands, which claims that Mazeika, with comrades from Iraq and Afghanistan, worked for a Swiss businessman trying to collect a commercial debt worth millions of dollars.

Much of the Dutch investigation, revealed by U.S. prosecutors in federal court filings, reads like spy fiction: Ex-military specialists summoned from across the world. Plans made to track and neutralize the target. Escape by night train to Zurich. Payoff in euro. Efficient Dutch crack the case using the European cellphone network to track killers crossing and recrossing European borders.

The Dutch say the Swiss businessman behind the murder plot is Lukas Fecker, a self-described mergers and acquisition specialist who buys failing businesses and claims to turn them around. The victim is Thomas Schwarz, a German who, since 2018, lived in Bergen in southwest Holland, a mile or so from the German border near Düsseldorf.

Schwarz, who is believed to have been in his 30s, worked for a Dutch fruit and vegetable distributor. More importantly, he owned stock in Taurus Farms, an organic fruit and vegetable operation in Macedonia financed by German investors and described in the court filings as failing. It appears, from what the Dutch police dug up, that Taurus Farms was at the center of a financial dispute that cost Schwarz his life.

On Nov. 26, 2019, Dutch police found Schwarz dead on his living room floor. He had been stabbed and beaten. His ribs were broken and he had been punched so hard in the chest that his spine cracked. Cause of death was determined to have been “cleaving” of his jugular and carotid artery.

His credit and bank cards were scattered around the home. Someone had plugged the kitchen sink with a rag and submerged Schwarz’s telephones. Police were able to determine that, at 7:19 a.m. on the 26th, one of the phones had been unlocked with a fingerprint and someone had accessed or at least tried to access an online banking application.

“Dutch authorities believe it likely that [Schwarz] and Fecker had a business relationship, and that the victim possibly owed Fecker money,” the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote in a legal filing connected to Dutch request for Mazeika’s extradition. “Fecker is currently detained and awaiting trial in the Netherlands.”

Dutch police knew before finding the body that Schwarz had been embroiled in some sort of business dispute. He told friends that other Taurus investors were pressing him to sell his shares and get out of the investment, according to the court filings. He told the Dutch police that he had been “accosted and threatened” in October 2019, about a month before his death, by two “strangers” who drove to his home and demanded money. When he refused, they told him to expect someone else who would “not be so kind.”

The Dutch police claim that Mazeika was one of those who arrived later.

He is a 38-year old former Ranger who served a tour in Iraq in the National Guard Military Police and two tours in Afghanistan in the Army’s 101st Airborne Infantry, according to Hartford lawyer Morgan Rueckert, who represents him in extradition proceedings. While serving, Reuckert said Mazeika suffered a traumatic brain injury from a hidden explosive device and has symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Since leaving the Army, Mazeika has traveled the world as an operative for organizations fighting human trafficking, Reuckert said. He and other ex-military types developed intelligence and provided other services, Reuckert said.

Federal authorities arrested Mazeika in April at the request of the Dutch. He has been in custody since, acknowledging that the Dutch have enough evidence for an arrest, but reserving the right to argue against extradition to the State Department, which has the last word in the matter.

At about the same time, two other former servicemen who served in Afghanistan with Mazeika were arrested on the same charges. Justin Causey acknowledged to police that he did “protection work” for Fecker when he was arrested in Colorado. William Lyle Johnson was arrested in Mississippi.

The court records show Causey and Fecker’s relationship predated Schwarz’s death by at least months. Fecker hired Causey ostensibly to find Schwarz and collect a debt and Causey recruited military colleagues to help. In October 2019, Causey got a WhatsApp message from Fecker about collecting 462,000 euro from “a German living in the Netherlands.” Fecker complained that Schwarz stole about 3 million euro, and Causey replied “I’m in.”

Two attempts to collect failed, the second after an active duty soldier Causey had recruited had to return to his base on Nov. 22, before the job could be completed. Causey told Fecker he could recruit associates able to stay in Europe indefinitely after the Christmas Holiday, but Fecker exploded over the delay.

He texted Causey, “I lose the company next Thursday, and have no right to claim from Schwarz thereafter.” Fecker said he was troubled that Causey had failed over “5 weeks,” especially since Fecker thought that Schwarz was nothing more than “a milksop, did not employ bodyguards, and should have been an easy target.” Fecker demanded that Schwarz be taken care of within days, according to the court records

The records show that “numerous” encrypted telephone exchanges between Causey, Mazeika and Johnson began immediately. Three days before Schwarz’s Nov. 26 death, Causey and Mazeika exchanged messages about how hard it was to “grab this guy.” When Mazeika asked if he needed help, Causey answered “I do.” At that point, the court records suggest Mazeika became involved in planning how to get into Schwarz’s home without alerting the neighbors — something that had been a problem in the past.

Causey points out that Schwarz is “… fat, not strong. If the door closes and the street is clear, we take the key and open. Brachial stun makes one quiet.” Mazeika responds, “Oh we can prevent sound I was asking in the sense of if he goes down on the hit how heavy is he.”

Mazeika noted that the ground-level entrance at Schwarz’s front door would make it “easier to bum rush” an entry, and “shove him back in fast.” He suggested faking a large package delivery, which would allow the team to linger on the street without attracting attention, while giving it something to hide behind at the door.

“Simply put,” U.S. prosecutors wrote in a court filing, “Mazeika was integral to the planning and execution of the operation, not a minimal participant.”

Fecker’s wife paid for Mazeika and Johnson to fly from Newark to Düsseldorf and Causey met them in a rented car.

According to the court filings: Closed circuit television recordings and telephone tracking show they surveilled Schwarz’s home, spent the night at a hotel across the border in Germany and returned to Schwarz’s home in a rented Volkswagen Polo at 6:45 a.m. on the day he died.

Neighbors later told Dutch police they heard slamming doors, a scream, banging and dragging sounds in Schwarz’s apartment beginning at about 7 a.m. They saw someone jump into the Volkswagen, which also seemed to race away before a door could be closed.

Causey’s and Mazeika’s cellphones were tracked crossing back into Germany where Causey returned the rented car — without floor mats. Investigation later turned up Schwarz’s blood on the car interior.

The next day, Causey texted his girlfriend and told her he was wiping all contents from his telephone because he had misgivings about “this last job.”

“Why???,” he explained to her. “I don’t feel good about this last job, hon. It was sloppy. I hope we didn’t do something that is going to catch up to me. Last time I’ll mention it.”

Johnson had a lot to say after his arrest in Mississippi in April. He confessed to U.S. authorities, minimizing his role in Schwarz’s killing.

He said Mazeika, who he knew from prior military service, not Causey, recruited him. He said Mazeika told him Causey had been hired to force a businessman to pay a debt and the job would require violence. He said the three used the encrypted platforms Line and Signal to communicate.

According to court records, Johnson said Causey and Mazeika approached Schwarz’s house on foot while he sat in the Volkswagen and smoked a cigarette. He said they returned 20 minutes later, covered in blood, and Mazeika said he thought they killed the guy.

Causey and Mazeika stuffed their clothing in a bag of bleach and tossed it into a forested area. Causey returned the car. Then all three took a train to Zurich and spent the night at Fecker’s house, according to the court records.

In continuing exchanges with his girlfriend, Causey called the job a learning experience. He raved about Mazeika, but was less enthusiastic about Johnson.

“Lessons learned on my side. Big lessons on [Lukas Fecker’s] side,” Causey told his girlfriend. “Flawless execution of the plan. … Jacob is good as (expletive deleted) gold. I wish Will didn’t come attached. He’s a good guy, but … you know.”

It is unclear from the documents who got paid what. Johnson said Fecker’s wife paid him in euro, which he exchanged for $10,000 in US dollars. There is a text message suggesting that Mazeika was complaining about not getting paid by January and a reply from Fecker that his money was being transferred electronically.

Causey told his girlfriend he was returning with more than $200,000 for two months work.

“$230,000 in 2 months,” he told her. “The work, though … Lord.”

She replied “That’s a lot! As long as you’re OK, I’m OK.”

“I’m good,” Causey said. “It’s just a job.”

©2021 Hartford Courant.

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