WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A woman whose arrest on charges that she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband was broadcast nationally testified Tuesday that the alleged plot was actually an acting project that spiraled out of control.
Dalia Dippolito, 33, testified at a pretrial hearing that she, her husband, Michael Dippolito, and the informant, a former lover Mohamed Shihadeh, had been working on scripted video that they hoped would be picked up on social media and land them acting or reality show careers. She said the project went astray when Shihadeh involved the Boynton Beach Police Department and both her husband and Shihadeh pressured her to stick with it even after she wanted out.
She said Shihadeh eventually threatened to kill her and her family, flashing a gun at her, if she didn't go through with a key meeting with a prospective hit man who was actually an undercover police officer. She said he drove her to the meeting to make sure she went.
"I didn't want to go," Dippolito said.
Both Michael Dippolito and Shihadeh have denied being part of any video. Shihadeh has denied threatening Dippolito or flashing a gun at her.
Video of Dippolito's 2009 arrest and events leading up to it went viral after they were posted on YouTube by the police department and broadcast on the reality television show "Cops." Dippolito was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 20 years. An appellate court overturned the verdict because jurors hadn't been thoroughly vetted about their media exposure. She is facing a May retrial.
Her lead attorney, Brian Claypool, is asking Circuit Judge Glenn D. Kelley to throw out the case before trial, alleging that the Boynton police violated Dippolito's right to a fair investigation by trying to give "Cops" a good show, including pressuring Shihadeh with arrest if he backed out. Boynton police Chief Jeffrey Katz said in a statement Tuesday that "we stand behind the principled work our detectives did on this investigation."
Under questioning by Claypool, Dippolito said that she had an idea of working on an acting project because Shihadeh had appeared in an episode of TV's "Burn Notice," a Florida-based crime series. She said they had worked on scripts and that a first meeting between her and Shihadeh, which was videotaped by police, was actually them acting out a script and not her asking Shihadeh to actually find her a hit man.
During an intense hourlong cross-examination, prosecutor Craig Williams hammered at Dippolito's story, playing videos and recorded conversations of Dippolito with Shihadeh and an undercover police officer, Widy Jean, who played the hit man. He questioned repeatedly Dippolito's testimony that she was following a script or Shihadeh's instructions after his alleged threats.
He especially hit on the conversation with Jean, during which she told the officer she was "5,000 percent sure" she wanted her husband dead, seemed willing to pay $7,000 to make it happen and offered details of her husband's routine. She repeatedly insisted it was all an act aimed at protecting herself and her family from being killed by Shihadeh.
Kelley said he would rule on whether to throw out the case in the coming weeks.