Masked intruder pleads guilty to 2007 attack on Connecticut arts patron and fake virus threat

The last of three masked men pleaded guilty to a failed attempt to extort $8.5 million from a wealthy Connecticut arts patron and her companion by threatening them with a deadly virus in a 2007 home invasion.

The 38-year-old Romanian citizen, Stefan Alexandru Barabas, had been on the run for about 15 years before finally being arrested as a fugitive in Hungary in 2022. He pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion, federal prosecutors announced.

Barabas is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 11 and could receive six to seven years in prison, if a plea agreement is accepted by the court, prosecutors said.

Three additional men in the case have already been convicted, including the two other masked intruders who prosecutors said entered the home in South Kent with Barabas brandishing fake guns. The men then bound and blindfolded millionaire philanthropist Anne Hendricks Bass and abstract artist Julian Lethbridge, injected them with a substance they claimed was a deadly virus and demanded the couple pay the $8.5 million or else be left to die.

After it became clear Bass and Lethbridge weren't able to meet their demands, the men drugged the couple with a sleeping aid and fled in Bass' Jeep Cherokee, prosecutors said.

The SUV was found abandoned at a Home Depot in New Rochelle, New York the next morning. Days later, an accordion case with a stun gun, 12-inch knife, a black plastic replica gun, a crowbar, syringes, sleeping pills, latex gloves and a laminated telephone card with the South Kent address was found washed ashore in Jamaica Bay, New York.

The accordion case and knife were eventually connected to the men, as well as a partial Pennsylvania license plate seen by a witness near Bass' estate on the night of the home invasion, among other evidence.

Bass, credited with helping to raise the profile of ballet in the U.S., died in 2020. She was 78.

In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Lethbridge said: “This has been an extremely long and arduous process. I am grateful for the professionalism and dogged work of various law enforcement authorities to bring these individuals to justice."

"That said, I remain convinced based on the sophistication of the crime, as well as other facts, that there are others who participated in the planning and financing of this crime who have yet to be brought to book," he said. "It is my continued hope that one day all who were involved will be known and that they too will be held to account.”

In 2012, during the trial of Emanuel Nicolescu, one of the intruders and Bass' former house manager that she had fired, Bass tearfully described thinking she was going to die the night the three men burst into the home she shared with Lethbridge.

Bass said she was taking care of her 3-year-old grandson that weekend and had just put the boy to bed when the break-in occurred, according to news reports.

“I heard war cries, a terrifying sound. I saw three men, dressed in black, charging up the stairs, almost like they were in military formation,” she testified.

She said the intruders then grabbed her, threw her onto the floor and tied up both she and Lethbridge. The men then injected the couple with a substance that turned out to be a benign liquid, according to news reports. Bass said the men had guns and knives but she never saw their faces during the hours-long ordeal.

Bass testified how she was traumatized for months by the attack, noting how she and Lethbridge had previously enjoyed spending weekends at the countryside home.

“Before the home invasion,” she said, “I felt quite comfortable being there by myself. I can’t stay there by myself anymore.”