By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Massachusetts hospital police official linked to the so-called cannibal cop case pleaded guilty on Thursday in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to kidnap and kill women.
New Hampshire man Richard Meltz, 65, faces up to five years in prison on each of two conspiracy counts when he is sentenced later this year. The plea deal came just weeks before Meltz and two co-defendants were scheduled to go to trial on charges that they hatched a kidnap plot online.
The case stems from an investigation into New York police officer Gilberto Valle, whose trial and conviction last year for plotting to kidnap, cook and eat women earned him the tabloid nickname "Cannibal Cop.
Meltz, a deputy chief of police for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusetts, had planned to argue at trial that he was merely fantasizing and had no intention of going through with any crimes, according to court filings.
Valle himself offered a version of that defense at trial, but prosecutors convinced a federal jury that his actions, including conducting surveillance of potential victims, had crossed the line from fantasy to reality.
The case has brought to light a macabre Internet community, where fetishists exchange thoughts about torture, cannibalism and brutality.
The other defendants in the case, Michael Van Hise, 23, and Robert Christopher Asch, 61, are scheduled to go on trial later this month, but the trial may be pushed back to February.
The case is U.S. v. Valle, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-cr-00847.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Gunna Dickson)