Burned by a bad breakup in 2018, clinical social worker Diane Sylvia turned to one of the patients at her Linwood, N.J., practice — a onetime gangster — hoping he would help her exact her revenge on her ex-boyfriend.
“He needs his pretty little face bashed in,” Sylvia said. “A broken arm would help, too.”
She would only find out months later that her patient had ratted her out: The hit man he enlisted for her was working undercover for the FBI, and their brainstorming sessions on the attack plot were being recorded.
On Tuesday, Sylvia, 60, of Somers Point, N.J., pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit a violent crime — punishable by up to five years in prison. During a hearing before U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez in Camden, she admitted taking out a home-equity loan to pay the purported assassin’s $4,000 fee.
At their first meeting in October 2018, Sylvia explained to the undercover agent that her ex, who lived in Massachusetts, had conned her out of money for years, according to court filings in her case. She also made vague allusions to "some stuff” her boyfriend knew about her that could get her in trouble with the state licensing board.
“How is [attacking him] gonna help you with him going after your licenses and stuff?” the undercover agent asked. Sylvia responded: “It’s just gonna make me feel better. … It’s the only way I can get him back.”
Sylvia kept in touch with the agent over the next several days, at times wavering on whether she wanted her ex killed or simply maimed, and whether she wanted to go through with the attack at all. But when they met in person at her office two weeks later, Sylvia was back on board.
“How 'bout we break one arm, and just mess up his face?” she suggested, making slashing motions on her cheek, according to the criminal complaint. “Something that makes him not so cute. Something so he can’t do push-ups, so he can’t work out.”
She drew the line, however, when the would-be hit man suggested throwing battery acid in the man’s face.
Sylvia and the agent met again the next week to finalize plans, and she handed over the cash. The attack, they agreed, would take place at a Rhode Island casino frequented by her ex. As he left, the agent suggested she get rid of the cellphone she used to communicate with him.
“Can I go to the Ocean City bridge and throw it off?” she asked. “Is that good enough?”
The FBI showed up to arrest her five days later.
But, speaking after Tuesday’s hearing, Sylvia’s lawyer, Thomas Calcagni, said that that account only told part of his client’s story. He called Sylvia the true victim in the case and said she had suffered years of threats and blackmail from her ex-boyfriend, whom he did not identify. Calcagni also accused the man of stealing nearly $400,000 from her.
“The FBI — the same agency that ignored Ms. Sylvia’s outreach about the abuse she was suffering — should feel a real sense of pride for its four-week sting operation against an emotionally battered woman desperate to find anyone to protect her [from] her abuser,” he said. “What a terrific victory for the Department of Justice.”
Federal authorities did not name either her former boyfriend or the reputed gangster who first alerted the FBI about her request.
Sylvia’s license as a social worker was suspended as a result of her arrest, according to state records. She is scheduled to be sentenced in January.