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2 Convicted in Flap Over 'RocketBelt'

Courts: Inventor was abducted by ex-partner and another man trying to recover jet backpack.

April 26, 2002|JEAN GUCCIONE

Two men were convicted Thursday of kidnapping, false imprisonment and extortion in a long-running battle with a former partner over a Buck Rogers-like belt.

A jury in Van Nuys found Thomas Laurence Stanley, 57, of Sugar Land, Texas, and Christopher James Wentzel, 54, of North Hollywood guilty on all counts. Both face life in prison when they are sentenced June 7 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The men lured Bradley Wayne Barker, 47, from Arkansas to Los Angeles in November 1999 with the promise of a job on a Hollywood movie set, the prosecutor said. When Barker arrived, they held him against his will, sometimes handcuffed and in a box, for eight days in an attempt to learn where he hid the RocketBelt 2000.

The jet backpack was designed to lift a person into the air for a few seconds. The belt, one of three in the world, was developed and built by Stanley and Barker over three years.

Their business partnership soured in 1994, when Stanley accused Barker of padding manufacturing costs. After that, Barker set up a company with another Texan, Joe Wright, that sued Stanley and won control of the RocketBelt. In a later case, Stanley won a $10.2-million default judgment against Barker and possession of the belt. He never got it, despite his elaborate efforts.

Defense attorneys Dale R. Atherton and Donald J. Calabria tried to focus jurors on the often brutal relationship between the two inventors. Barker once beat Stanley in the head with a hammer, according to testimony.

The defense also argued that Stanley and Wentzel were acting as bail bondsmen and holding Barker so he would not skip out on an Arkansas court date. Jurors rejected the argument.

"The bottom line is no one deserves to be put in a box," juror Clara Acosta said outside court.

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