Long before Richard Matt was felled by a border patrolman Friday night, the fugitive killer was apparently a snitch for the feds—helping them catch a greedy embezzler who, according to Matt, was plotting to kill his heiress wife.
Matt, a career criminal, was serving time for attempted burglary in 1995. He appeared then before a parole panel and portrayed himself as the victim of a ruthless and rich fellow inmate. Matt told the panel a “guy hired me to kill his wife and three other people while I was in jail.”
That man was David Telstar, an adopted child from Minnesota. An artist who married up. Way up.
The graphic designer married Desiree Telstar on Valentine’s Day in 1986. She was the granddaughter of the late Harry Warner, founder of the movie studio Warner Bros.
But the marriage didn’t last. In 1991, Desiree reported that he’d embezzled more than $1 million from a joint multimillion-dollar trust and stashed the cash in Swiss banks, backed by numerous court documents and Swiss bank account files. By the mid-’90s, Telstar was being held at Erie County Holding Center on a warrant.
Matt and Telstar met while holed up in cells in the Buffalo, New York, facility, Matt told the parole board, according to a transcript from the hearing. Matt said Telstar offered him a fee of $100,000—plus $15,000 cash for Matt’s bail from the holding facility—if Matt would help kill Desiree, along with her parents, who happened to be Los Angeles Police Commission President Stanley Sheinbaum and Betty Warner Sheinbaum. Also on the alleged hit list was Telstar’s attorney, Walter Valentine, who’d created the couple’s multimillion-dollar trust.
Friends of Matt’s, lawyers who worked on the case, and Matt himself all say the prison escapee had became an informant for the FBI as it investigated the alleged murder-for-hire plot. When reached for comment on this article, the FBI would neither confirm nor deny whether Matt had ever been an informant.
Telstar, who was later arrested by the FBI for the alleged plot, admitted to ginning up the hit on his wife, in-laws, and the family lawyer in a guilty plea, his lawyers confirmed.
Telstar did not return requests for comment on this story.
Matt told the parole board he agreed to go along with the murder scheme and even promised to burn the victim’s bodies—but that it had been a ruse all along, and that he’d always planned to save Desiree’s life.
“When I got out, I notified [Telstar’s] wife,” Matt told the parole board. “I said, ‘Look, you know, this guy bailed me out of jail. He put a hit on you.’”
According to a childhood friend of Richard Matt, the feds descended on Matt after his parole hearing and he went to work as an informant to help bust Telstar. He was slated to be the prosecution’s star witness in the murder-for hire plot (reportedly adorned in a bulletproof vest to fend off “backup killers”) until Telstar’s lawyers secured the embezzler with a sweetheart plea deal—of five years’ prison time plus three years’ supervision—for copping to two charges of conspiracy to commit murder against a witness. He ultimately was sentenced and served five years at FCI McKean in Lewis Run, Pennsylvania—some of which was subtracted for good behavior, a Federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman told The Daily Beast.
As for Matt, he was apparently only after a quick payday. “I wasn’t planning on killing no one,” the killer with the heart of gold protested to the parole board.
How Matt and Telstar forged a bond behind bars was something the parole board wanted answered. Matt explained that he operated in the slammer as a peacemaker at the Erie County Holding Center. And when Telstar landed there, he was the fair-skinned, spare-framed pretty boy about to be menaced before Matt stepped in.
“There was only two white guys on the whole block, and some of the black guys were pushing up on him, and I stepped in with him,” Matt told the parole board. “I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to watch this happen,’ and we became friends.”
Weeks passed and that’s when Telstar allegedly waved the scent of his wife’s millions in front of Matt’s nose. Telstar allegedly told Matt ‘I got over a million dollars cash here. I’ll bail you out. Once you knock these people off, I’ll give you another hundred thousand dollars.’” Matt said he told Telstar, ‘Yeah, yeah. Sure, I’ll do it.’”
When it came to the murder-for-hire plot, Telstar’s lawyers say Matt played their client the entire time. “He knows his way around a prison and he can use someone like Mr. Telstar as a vehicle to get out of their charges,” said Andrew LoTempio, one of Telstar’s co-counsels in his criminal case. He added that Matt, to the best of his recollection, even rifled through Telstar’s personal belongings to gain an advantage. “That was our position, that Matt goes after his papers and then tells everyone that he was offered money in return for killing his wife.”
As a rough-and-tumble convict who dismembered his boss and served several years in a Mexican prison for fatally stabbing a man at a strip club, Matt had a monstrous ability to survive any prison setting and was a master manipulator.
Another Telstar lawyer, Jim Harrington, sized Matt up as the real mastermind of the hitman-for-hire plan—but says the sociopath was bluffing and never meant to go through with the killing, and just wanted to bilk Telstar for the bail money.
“[Richard] Matt set the whole thing up and David [Telstar] bailed him out and then Matt turned on him,” he told The Daily Beast. “The whole case would have risen or fallen on Matt’s credibility… he had a lot to gain and there was not even a chance that this was even meant to be carried out.”
Matt also told the parole panel that’d he survived a botched shanking in prison, which he said had Telstar’s fingerprints all over it.
“I got stabbed in my leg in Elmira over it, you know,” he told the board. “I didn’t know the guy,” he said, before naming the disgraced Santa Barbara socialite as the mastermind for the supposed hit. “I know that guy did [it], Dave Telstar,” he said. “I’m doing my time here in fear.”
“I would find that hard to believe,” Harrington said of the allegations his client ordered the shanking. “I suspect Matt has made many enemies over the years.”
Matt may have been the most talkative of Telstar’s “friends” on the inside but he was certainly not the only one to get wind of the Swiss bank account windfall. It seems that Telstar broadcast his riches stashed in Geneva banks under his aliases to any inmate who had ears and nothing to lose.
According to an affidavit filed by Desiree against her husband, she claimed she was virtually imprisoned by Telstar. “I was afraid of him because he keeps guns and invites confrontation and he’d say he would kill me if I tried to leave him,” the court papers report Desiree as saying. At the time, Desiree was 59 and Telstar was only 35.
A memorandum of law from 1993 notes that Telstar used the aliases Daniel Harrison-Steele and Eron Nickolas to open two separate Swiss safety-deposit boxes and pack them with almost $1 million of Desiree Telstar’s cash. But after Desiree tipped off the cops, Telstar was arrested at a border crossing in Buffalo, en route from Geneva. Law enforcement officers seized a computer that held all of the information about his Swiss accounts, and Telstar was sent to jail.
By the time Swiss officials checked on the safety-deposit boxes, Telstar had allegedly arranged to empty them by enlisting fellow inmates, friends, and their family members with power-of-attorney privileges, according to bank records and interviews with some of the family members themselves.
According to bank records and affidavits reviewed by The Daily Beast, on Aug. 27, 1991, five months after the safety-deposit boxes were established, Telstar allegedly dispatched a Florida woman named Leila Barkoczi (whom he allegedly met in England) to Switzerland, according to an affidavit in the case, Desiree Telstar v. Erie County, dated March 17, 1994. Desiree was suing the Erie County district attorney to help retrieve the money.
Barkoczi allegedly jetted to Geneva to remove $27,000 from the box and returned to the States to spring Richard Matt out of the pen “so that he could kill Desiree Telstar and other witnesses against [him],” according to the same affidavit.
In a phone conversation with a woman who denied she was Leila Barkoczi but said “I know the name,” the woman said that Barkoczi was 18 years old at the time of the incident, before saying she refused to comment.
After Barkoczi, there was convicted coke dealer Adolfo Candelario.
Candelario had become chummy with the deep-pocketed Telstar, too.
Based on Desiree Telstar’s lawsuit against Erie County prosecutors, Candelario entered Telstar’s life in December 1992. Telstar allegedly gave Candelario power of attorney so that he could help access the Swiss cash and bring it back to the United States. Through an attorney, Candelario allegedly signed on family members with power-of-attorney documents so they could retrieve the cash.
By the time Candelario was netted and ultimately convicted in a police sting for attempting to bribe a lieutenant and a judge to get a favorable ruling in his appeal, he had allegedly involved numerous family members in a scheme to access Telstar’s cash. One relative, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast that he was flying to Geneva to collect a $25,000 finder’s fee after bringing in $775,000 from Telstar’s accounts.
“I was going to get $25,000,” the relative, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview. “I did it in a moment thinking I was getting a little money and that would be a down payment on a house. But it went for the worse.”
The relative took his wife on what he described as “a Europe vacation.” While he says he managed to get most of the $775,000 of the money to Candelario, the couple were ultimately caught with more than $100,000 when they returned to the States during a separate trip to the Dominican Republic, according to an indictment in Candelario’s cop-bribing case.
“My wife spent seven months in jail because of this,” the relative said. “I don’t even know who David Telstar is. I know Adolfo met him in jail and they did use us. And we went through all that hell.”
Meanwhile, Telstar, now 58, has been out of prison for almost 20 years, after serving only five years for the alleged murder scheme. He’s returned whatever money he didn’t spend back to his ex-wife, according to his lawyers and restitution records. “It’s not a severe sentence, there’s no question about it,” his lawyer, Jim Harrington, said. “When you put the part of the California [embezzling] case—it’s a very good result for him, which is part of the reason he agreed to take the plea.”
Telstar remarried a photographer and together they run an art space in Reading, Pennsylvania, called RAW Events & Spaces.
Calls and emails to both Telstar and his new wife, Janice, were not returned.
According to the couple’s website, the art gallery sells Janice’s travel photos and snapped moments of marital bliss.
In the ex-con’s bio for the site, (which mysteriously was scrubbed after The Daily Beast made inquiries) Telstar describes himself as having had “restless career of almost 20 years” with a CV boasting a plum gig with architect Frank Gehry after attending the prestigious Parsons School of Art in New York City.
He also describes himself as the “creative and driving force” of the gallery. “One of David’s greatest gifts is to see the potential in people, spaces, and opportunities,” the website states.
A member of Desiree Telstar’s family told The Daily Beast that the family had been vigilant ever since Matt’s escape from jail. Now, neither they nor Telstar will ever see Matt again.
Meanwhile, friends tell The Daily Beast that Matt may have found his perfect end.
“It was kind of like his dream to go out with a bang and he went out with a bang,” a childhood friend, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “If he had a look at the kind of attention this was getting on TV he would have loved it… This is part of the delusion: that Ricky was more important than he was.”