Today in Pierce County court 51-year-old Michael Schaef was officially charged with first-degree murder, stemming from the 1991 shooting death of Jerald Iafrati. Schaef, who listed “cannabis consultant” as his job in arrest records, according to the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, has previously been associated with the Green Light Expo medical marijuana dispensary in Tacoma.
According to charging documents filed in the case, Schaef stands accused of killing Iafrati in what the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office is calling a drug deal gone bad. Previously, Seattle Weekly has covered Schaef’s involvement with the now-defunct Tacoma medical marijuana dispensary North End Club 420 (here and here). After the murder, police discovered a marijuana crop inside Schaef’s home and he was charged for that transgression, but no murder charges were ever filed.
Over two decades old, according to the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office the 1991 murder case was reactivated last year and “statements from the defendant’s ex-wife, along with other evidence, led to the murder charge.”
“There are basically two ways cold cases are solved. The first is DNA, and second is people talk,” Prosecutor Mark Lindquist says in a press release announcing the charges. “Here, it was good old-fashioned legwork by Tacoma Police detectives who gathered new statements and other evidence. There is no statute of limitations on murder cases and we don’t give up until there’s justice.”
Here’s how charging documents describe the 23-year-old crime:
The victim had been driven to the hospital by his girlfriend C.Ferguson. Ferguson told police that prior to the shooting she and Iafrati were in her car parked in the area of 900 block of North Sheridan. There they contacted a resident, later identified as Nicole Wyatt, who they believed was going to broker a drug deal that would involve Ferguson buying a large quantity of marijuana from an unknown seller. While Ferguson and Iafrati waited outside Wyatt’s house in the vehicle, a blue sedan arrived and black male and a white male got out of the car. The white male was wearing a mask and a hoodie. The two men began to bang on Ferguson’s car and demand money.
Ferguson said she had a large amount of cash for the drug deal. Ferguson could see that both were armed with firearms. At some point the passenger side window broke and Ferguson tried to drive away. Ferguson noticed that Iafrati had been shot. The assailants pursued Ferguson in their car and a collision occurred. As a result of the collision Ferguson’s license plate was torn from her car. The assailants grabbed Ferguson’s purse and drove away. Ferguson drove Iafrati to the hospital.
Detectives determined that Wyatt and SCHAEF were a ssociated with the North Sheridan residence. Detectives obtained information that marijuana was being grown inside the residence. A search warrant was obtained. Just prior to serving the warrant investigators observed Wyatt and SCHAEF in a vehicle nearby. After a brief pursuit the vehicle was stopped and Wyatt and SCHAEF were detained. A marijuana crop was found inside the residence.
During the course of the investigation police were contacted by J.Turner who reported that at the time of the shooting SCHAEF had possession of her car. Turner told police that hours prior to the incident SCHAEF asked to borrow a hooded sweatshirt so he could conceal his face and hair while he collected money from someone. SCHAEF told Turner, “This boy’s going to give me my money and I don’t care what I have to do.” Shortly after the incident SCHAEF called Turner and said that Turner’s car had suffered front end damage.
Turner said after the incident and after Wyatt and SCHAEF had been detained by police she received separate calls from the jail from Wyatt and SCHAEF. SCHAEF told her that there was cash under a carpet in room 310 at the Sherwood Inn. Wyatt told Turner that she would find her car in the 600 block of North Prospect. Turner called police with the vehicle information. Police located Turner’s car. It had suffered body damage. Detectives noted that Ferguson’s license plate had become wedged onto Turner’s car. Investigators recovered a document that belonged to Ferguson inside Turner’s car.
Both Wyatt and SCHAEF were interviewed. SCHAEF acknowledged that he knew Ferguson and was aware that she frequently carried large amounts of cash. SCHAEF denied any involvement in the incident.
Wyatt eventually told police that Ferguson drove to Wyatt’s residence so Wyatt could facilitate the purchase and sale of two pounds of marijuana. Wyatt was apparently to ride with Ferguson to a second location. Ferguson returned to her car and waited for Wyatt. Wyatt watched from her house as a vehicle arrived and two men exited. The men moved to Ferguson’s car and confronted the occupants. Wyatt said she heard a gunshot and closed her door. Wyatt said she and SCHAEF rented a room at the Sherwood Inn after the incident.
In June of 2001 detectives spoke with Wyatt who reiterated that she arranged a drug deal that involved Ferguson and added that it was on behalf of SCHAEF who was working with a black male by the name of “Gee Gee.” SCHAEF told Wyatt to take Ferguson to another location so the deal would not happen in front of their house. Wyatt repeated that before she made her way to Ferguson’s vehicle Turner’s car arrived and two men got out and approached Ferguson’s car. One of the men, a white male, was wearing a hoodie and some sort of mask. The second man, a black male, approached the passenger side of Ferguson’s car. As Ferguson tried to drive away Wyatt heard a “pop” as though glass broke.
Wyatt said sometime shortly after the incident SCHAEF returned to their house with cash. SCHAEF told Wyatt they were leaving. They went to the Sherwood Inn and rented a room. SCHAEF told Wyatt he was concerned about “Gee Gee’s crew,”that at the time of shooting “Gee Gee” had a gun and SCHAEF had a knife and that SCHAEF thought Iafrai was dead. SCHAEF was concerned that there was glass in his boots so he changed shoes. SCHAEF told Wyatt the money he had was from Ferguson. Wyatt told police that she and SCHAEF got married shortly after the incident under the theory that she would not be able to testify against her husband. Shortly after this interview Wyatt called detectives back and said that she had not been truthful in parts of her statements.
According to charging documents, the case swung on an interview done with Wyatt in November 2013 at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, where she’s currently serving a prison sentence. “Wyatt told detectives that she had been truthful in her 2001 statement to detectives but SCHAEF forced her to call and tell detectives that she lied,” according to charging documents.
Schaef was arraigned today in Pierce County Court and is currently being held on $1 million bail. Calls to his attorney and Green Light Expo have gone unanswered.