Italian prosecutors on Monday demanded 16 years and eight months in jail for a Polish man charged with drugging and kidnapping a British model for ransom in a sensational case that raised the specter of auctions of young women on encrypted websites.
Prosecutor Paolo Storari said in closing arguments that he based sentence on the possibility that 20-year-old Chloe Ayling could have died during the July 11-17, 2017 kidnapping. He said she was drugged with ketamine, which knocked her out, then closed up inside a canvas bag and transported to a farmhouse, where she was handcuffed to the furniture for at least the first night.
Defendant Lukasz Herba denies guilt and claims that Ayling agreed to the scheme to boost her career.
In a declaration that defendants are allowed to have in an Italian court, Herba said he was in love with Ayling, and they had concocted the kidnap plot to help her overcome financial difficulties after the birth of her son.
“I never hurt the girl. I was not violent with her,” Herba said. “If she felt forced verbally in any way, I am very sorry. But it certainly was not as Chloe has described.”
“I was in love and I was hoping that once her fame took off that she would repay me with feelings and we would share the money,” he said.
Previous testimony showed that the two had met on Facebook and had met at least once in person before her pregnancy.
According to prosecutors, Ayling was lured to Milan with the promise of a modeling gig and then drugged when she showed up at a mocked-up photographic studio. She was zipped inside a canvas pack and transported to a secluded farmhouse in neighboring Piedmont. There she was held for six days before Herba released her at the British consulate in Milan. In his initial statement to police, he said he did so out of sympathy for the fact she was a mother.
Ayling told investigators that she never tried to escape, even when she accompanied Herba into a store to buy shoes, because she was terrified, believing his threats that he was part of a bigger criminal gang that had eyes on her constantly.
She said she had been told she would be auctioned online since she was not able to come up with 300,000 euros ($355,000) in ransom. She said Herba showed her photos of other girls who were being sold over the deep web.
But in his shifting story line, Herba also testified previously that he had concocted the alleged deep web criminal group “Black Death,” and that his brother was helping him in the scheme agreed by Ayling.
Italian prosecutors are seeking the brother’s extradition from Britain.
Herba said he didn’t tell police that Ayling was in on the scheme during his initial statements because he believed she would come forward.
During closing arguments, his lawyer, Katia Kolakowska, cited an email she received from a U.S. film producer who pointed out that Ayling’s story closely matches the plot of a movie titled “By Any Means,” that was released about eight weeks before the 2017 kidnapping.
Storari, in his closing arguments, noted that Herba had invested at least 10,000 euros (nearly $11,800) in the kidnapping, taking into account real estate rentals and travel. He said it was unrealistic that Herba would have done so only to get ransom from a young woman without any means.
The prosecutor also cited Herba’s purchase of two ski masks, which Chloe said she saw kidnappers wearing when she was freed from the canvas bag, and the exchange of a note with his brother telling him to clean the trunk of the car well to make sure that there were no traces of her hair.