Mum’s the word: Woman, 78, accused of hiring $25k 'hitman' ahead of trial

File photo: iStock
File photo: iStock

The mother of a man accused of the murder of a Whorouly woman allegedly hired a hitman to kill the key witness in his trial.

But her plan went south when police discovered her alleged plan and posed as the hitman willing to do the job for $25,000.

Michael Cardamone, 50, is due to stand trial in July for the alleged murder of Karen Chetcuti Verbunt in January 2016 – accused of drugging and assaulting her before setting her alight.

Both he and his mother Maria Cardamone have been charged with perverting the course of justice and incitement to commit murder. 

The 78-year-old applied for bail in Wangaratta Magistrates’ Court on Friday, but was refused on the grounds she was an unacceptable risk to witnesses in the community.

Homicide squad Detective Senior Constable Steven Eppingstall told the court in evidence that police intercepted phone calls between Maria Cardamone and her son in jail in March, where they allegedly discussed the need to kill the witness.

An undercover operative posing as a hitman agreed to a price to be paid in two installments of $12,500 before and after the job.

“She was very guarded in the words she used, she often spoke in code and was the instigator of some of these codes,” Detective Eppingstall said.

He said Maria Cardamone hid the arrangement from the rest of the family then, on March 23, she tried to rip off the “hitman” and paid just $9000.

She was arrested about midday Thursday after her daughter drove her to the police station for an appointment by agreement.

Michael Cardamone was expected to face the added charges via direct indictment at his trial.

The upcoming trial has about 120 witnesses, but Maria Cardamone allegedly “fixated” on the victim because she believed he was more responsible for Ms Chetcuti Verbunt’s death than her son.

“She’s become enraged when we spoke about it,” Detective Eppingstall said. “We have taken steps to ensure (the victim) is as safe as possible … There are a number of witnesses, all local, that we have concerns about.”

He said Maria Cardamone claimed to need an interpreter when she was interviewed by police, despite engaging in long conversations in English before and after the recording was running.

Prosecutor Mario Eliades said the woman posed a real risk to the community following her alleged “venture to have somebody murdered”.

“The nature of the charge probably doesn’t get any more serious than this  – Mrs Cardamone has been willing to go to great extremes to protect her son,” he said.

Mrs Cardamone has been willing to go to great extremes to protect her son.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Maio Eliades

Barrister Gordon Chisholm said there was no evidence Maria Cardamone was a threat to any other witnesses and had been banned from calling or visiting her son in jail.

He argued a $25,000 surety from a family member and an order to engage with mental health services would reduce the risk of reoffending.

“The individual witness that Mrs Cardamone is fixated on would be in a different category to other witnesses,” he said. “There is no evidence to say she’s going to move her fixation.

Maria Cardamone, a short woman dressed in a dark pink jumper, put her hand to her head and shut her eyes when magistrate David Faram announced he would refuse her bail application because she was an unacceptable risk of reoffending.

“The medical report indicates she has been suffering from depression and has been in an anxious state for sometime,” Mr Faram said.

“This case against her seems to suggest she planned this reasonably well (and she) was, and perhaps remains, fixated on making sure this particular witness is not available to give evidence in the trial.”

Maria Cardamone was remanded for a committal mention on August 3. Her son’s trial is due to begin in Wangaratta on July 31.