Co-Conspirator Testifies in Plot to Kidnap and Murder a Reseda Man

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By Raul Hernandez

Ruben Szerlip walked into Courtroom 25 at the Hall of Justice last week with a shaved head, handlebar mustache,  khakis,  a bleach-white shirt and dull black shoes.

The 65-year-old Szerlip was there to testify about a nefarious plot to kidnap a Reseda man put him on a yacht docked at the Oxnard marina, kill him and toss his body into the ocean.

The loquacious co-conspirator and former heroin addict was granted immunity in exchange by prosecutors for his testimony against his former pal and Pacoima businessman Barry Carlisi.

Szerlip, who is in the state's witness protection and relocation program, testified that he walked away from the plan to kill Tom MacAllister after Carlisi said he wanted another man who had given him a bad check and his 15-year-old son dead.

The  57-year-old Carlisi, who is a Pacoima businessman, is on trial for conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to kidnap, solicitation to commit murder on MacAllister.

He is also charged with possession of marijuana for sale.

A marijuana grow farm was found at Carlisi's Bell City house when law enforcement executed a search warrant to gather evidence for the conspiracy charges.

A Bitter Divorce and Child Custody Battle Resulted Trigger the Conspiracy

Carlisi and his family were involved in a very bitter divorce and child custody dispute with Tom MacAllister who is the ex-husband of Carlisi's niece, Shannon.  

Barry Carlisi concocted a detailed plan to kill MacAllister and chop up his body. The plan included the use of Tasers, untraceable cell phones,  GPS  tracking devices that can be attached to cars, photographs of the victim and his house, and  a calendar that marked the days that MacAllister had custody of his daughter.

Szerlip and Barry Carlisi were doing surveillance on MacAllister, according to court testimony.

MacAllister's and Shannon Carlisi's legal disputes resulted in drawn-out legal battles including courtroom accusations and counter-accusations.

Later, there were threats and lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between MacAllister and the Carlisi family along with its patriarch Frank Carlisi Sr. who raised Shannon Carlisi.

MacAllister testified that the acrid legal battle left him broke, and he lost two houses after the Shannon Carlisi refused to sign for-sale papers to put the real state on the market.

Szerlip Testified that Barry Carlisi  Wanted Another Man Dead

Szerlip  told jurors last week that he decided to pull the plug on an alleged plan to murder and kidnap MacAllister after Carlisi told him that he wanted to kill another man who gave him a bad business check for $3,500.

Szerlip said an angry  Carlisi wanted the bad check writer's 15-year-old son also killed because Carlisi feared that the man was going to retaliate against him. 

Carlisi was with his 15-year-old son when he brutally beat the bad check writer. Carlisi's son beat up the man's son who looked older than 15 years, according to Szerlip

Carlisi's son was later remorseful about what he did, Szerlip told jurors..

After the beatings at Carlisi's place of business,  the bad-check writer didn't know where he was when he woke up,  Szerlip told jurors.

"He barked like a dog and didn't even know he was a person," Szerlip said.  "Both (father and son) went to the hospital in an ambulance."

"They needed to be killed" Witness Testifies

When the police arrived,  Carlisi's entire staff at his business told police that the man and his 15-year-old son started the fight,  and so, no charges were filed against the Carlisis,  Szerlip said.

As soon as Barry Carlisi learned that the man was going to retaliate, he told Szerlip that he wanted the man and his 15-year-old son killed, according to Szerlip.

"They needed to be killed," Szerlip said Carlisi told them.

Szerlip said he had no qualms about going along with the plan to kill MacAllister but he wanted no part in murdering a 15-year-old boy. So, he decided to go to law enforcement.

"You didn't care about saving Tom MacAllister's life is that fair to say?" asked prosecutor Anne Spillner.

"Yes," Szerlip relied.

Szerlip Goes to Law Enforcement To Report A Crime

Szerlip testified that he first went to a lawyer to get advice on how he should report these crimes because he didn't know how to do it. The lawyer told him that for $5,000 to $8,000 in legal fees, he would represent him.  Szerlip called the legal fees  "ridiculous" since he was only going to report a crime.

He then decided to go to the FBI  just to tell them about the plot to kill the bad check writer and his son.

Szerlip said the FBI didn't believe him and told him that Barry Carlisi was just testing  Szerlip's  "loyality."

"They just blew you off?" prosecutor Anne Spillman asked.

"Yeah, they did," Szerlip replied.

Next, he went to the Port Hueneme Police Department since some of the details to kill MacAllister were discussed at Friends Cafe at Port Hueneme. They referred him to the District Attorney's Office and an investigator  there told him to go to the Sheriff's Department who immediately launched an investigation after talking to Szerlip.

During Szerlip's testimony last week, one of Carlisi's lawyers John Hobson was frustrated by what Szerlip was saying on the stand.

Hobson objected.

"Hearsay," Hobson told Judge Patricia Murphy. "This happens constantly in this trial, hearsay."

Szerlip Testified That Barry Carlisi  Wanted MacAllister  Killed Like He Had Murdered  Sonny

Initially, Szerlip said Barry Carlisi's father Frank Carlisi Sr. wanted MacAllister dead.  But Frank Carlisi later changed his mind, said Szerlip.

However, after Frank Carlisi Sr. died in January 2010, fliers were put up with Frank Carlisi's name on them that stated: "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead."

In a rage, Barry Carlisi blamed MacAllister who testified earlier that he didn't do it.

After Barry Carlisi saw the flier, he revived efforts to kill MacAllister in the same way he killed a guy named Sonny Elan. Elan was taken out on a yacht parked in the Oxnard marina and murdered at sea, according to Szerlip.

Szerlip told jurors that Barry Carlisi said Sonny Elan who was Frank Carlisi's hunting partner was wrapped in a chain-link fence and weighed down with chains and weights. He was asked whether he wanted a bullet to his head or just thrown overboard and  into the ocean.

Barry Carlisi used profanity to described Sonny Elan's reaction, saying Sonny was begging for divine intervention up until seconds before he died. He was tortured and thrown overboard,  according to Szerlip.

"In the next 10 seconds God, was going to intervene and save him," Szerlip said Carlisi told him. "That somehow God was going to change the scenario."

During much Szerlip's testimony,  Barry Carlisi who is out of custody leaned slightly back in his chair. His eyes fixed on Szerlip who appeared calm and wore large glasses.

Szerlip said the yacht was used for surfing and going to the islands.

"The boat was used for other purposes other than surfing," said Szerlip.

Szerlip Agreed to Co-Operate with a Law Enforcement Investigation and Wear a Wire.

Szerlip told jurors that he was a former and close friend of Barry Carlisi so he didn't like being on the stand.

"I had a very close relationship with him, and this is really uncomfortable," he testified.

He said he met with Barry Carlis at various restaurants in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including Friends at Port Hueneme, to discuss how to kidnap MacAllister.

In two meetings with Carlisi at the IHOPs at Agoura Hills, Szerlip wore a wire to secretly record their conversation.  He said he had agreed to wear a wire for law enforcement on as many as five occasions or more.

Szerlip was given a new calendar with the dates when MacAllister had custody of his daughter along with a list of places were MacAllister visited, banked or shopped including Pet Smart.

Szerlip said he and Barry Carlisi went over a number ruses they could use to isolate and grab MacAllister.

"Barry was going to kill him," Szerlip said, adding "Once he was caught, I was out of it."

Szerlip testified that Barry Carlisi told him to buy a "throw away" cell phone that can't be traced and use a fictitious name when he  purchases it.

A large envelope was handed to Szerlip with personal information about MacAllister, including a photograph of a large, heavyset man that Barry Carlisi told him was MacAllister.

"I thought, holy smokes," Szerlip said, wondering how he was going to "bag" this large man.  "I wasn't sure I could do it."

GPS Device Used to Track MacAllister's Movements

The GPS tracking device was put under MacAllister's car and his movements were recorded for a year, including visits he made to a sister's house in Culver City.

Barry Carlisi was upset at the first GPS device under MacAllister's car because the batteries only lasted six months.  Szerlip said Barry Carlisi would go by MacAllister's house and pretend to be walking his dog, stop and quickly slip under MacAllister's car to change GPS devices.

Barry Carlisi bought a GPS device with better batteries,  Szerlip testified. 

"The new one was good for a year,"  said Szerlip. "I was surprised that there was so much technology out there."

Adding, "I got the Taser in Port Hueneme but it could have been at the IHop," said Szerlip, noting that the Taser had two prongs.

"I thought of sharpening them (prongs) but it was brand new when I got it," said Szerlip.

Szerlip said he did surveillance of MacAllister at his house, including one time when he pretended to be using a walker. He noted that there was a 24/7 neighborhood watch program there.

He said he walked by MacAllister's house one day, and MacAllister had left the front door open.

"He left the door wide open. I could hear him talking on the phone," Szerlip said.  "I was really close but I didn't have the Taser on me."

Using  a Fake  $25 Home Depot Gift Certificate to Nab MacAllister.

A ruse was also concocted to post phony fliers in the neighbor offering homeowners a new screen door from Home Depot to the first ones who responded to the $25 gift, hoping MacAllister would respond, Szerlip testified.

He testified that he was going to use a wheelchair or walker and lure MacAllister to an RV where Barry Carlisi would jump out of the RV and help snatch him.

But that was never pulled off either, and MacAllister got wise to the comic book ruse.

MacAllister had  told jurors that Shannon Carlisi took his prized comic book collection that he started when he was a 9-years-old.

Szerlip said Barry Carlisi tried to lure MacAllister into an isolated place by having others email him offering collectible comic books at very low prices.  But MacAllister who is a comic book collector didn't fall for it. 

Under Cross Examination by Hobson,  Szerlip Testified About His Past Crimes and His Affair with Barry Carlisi's Wife

Szerlip admitted that in the late 1960s, he and his wife along with three others, including his brother seized a man, took him up to Hollywood Hills, beat him severely and poured liquid fluid on his head.

They set his hair set on fire.

"I don't know if it was lighter fluid or not. I know that his hair was put on fire," Szerlip said. "I probably participated in it."

Szerlip said he went to prison for doing that, admitting that he committed theft every day to buy heroin.

"You even stole from your own mother," Hobson said.

"It's true," Szerlip said.

When questioned about his memory, he said he had a good memory, saying that he takes medication for his diabetes.

"I've been told I have a pretty good memory but I can't find my glasses sometimes," he said.

Szerlip admitted to having an affair with Barry Carlisi's wife Sabrina when she was separated for six months from Barry Carlisi.

Szerlip testified that he's been paid more than $30,000 from state officials since being put on the witness protection and relocation program.

He told jurors that his deal with prosecutors is to testify truthfully and his charges will be dropped.

"I was a co-conspirator because I went along with it," he said.

The trial which continues Monday and is expected to last two or three more weeks.



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The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at