Mystery surrounds death of woman charged in sex case

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Romulus — A woman charged alongside her parents in a case involving sex, a threesome and a computer mogul allegedly extorted out of $3 million has died unexpectedly while awaiting trial in federal court.

Romulus resident Jessica Tackett, 25, who prosecutors say was a prostitute and stripper, died Monday, six months after being charged in federal court. Tackett and her parents allegedly were involved in a scheme to extort almost $3 million from a retired software mogul by threatening to tell police about a threesome involving her, her teenage cousin and the businessman, prosecutors said.

Tackett, the mother of a toddler son, had a long history of drug addiction but the cause and manner of death is unclear, as is the potential impact on a salacious criminal case in U.S. District Court.

“The determination of manner and cause has not been made yet pending further investigation,” Medical Examiner’s Office spokesman Ryan Bridges told The News. A determination could take eight weeks pending further tests, he said.

Her family is raising money for funeral and burial costs.

A 119-count indictment unsealed in federal court in March alleges a years-long conspiracy that netted millions of dollars from software executive Paul Vagnozzi of Orchard Lake. He retired in 2005 after selling his company, Rochester Hills-based Cypress Corp., for $8.7 million.

The alleged scheme was headed by her father, Westland resident Terry Tackett, and involved her mother, Kimberly Tackett, prosecutors say.

Alleged hooker, parents accused in $3M extortion plot

Terry Tackett allegedly threatened to beat up Vagnozzi and ordered his pals in the "mafia" and Jokers Motorcycle Club to hurt him if the retired software executive didn't pay millions to keep secret a threesome with his daughter and another teen, prosecutors allege.

The alleged threats worked.

From 2008 to 2012, prosecutors say Vagnozzi gave Terry Tackett more than $2.6 million in cash and checks, according to the indictment. The money allegedly bankrolled the father's lavish lifestyle, including a home, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, muscle cars, Jet Skis and expensive gifts for his stripper girlfriends.

Terry Tackett, his wife and daughter allegedly also conspired to hide the alleged scheme from investigators and a grand jury. Prosecutors say Kimberly Tackett and her daughter falsely accused the software mogul of raping Jessica Tackett.

Prosecutors say Terry Tackett had people lie to IRS agents about ownership of vehicles seized during raids and allegedly threatened to lynch one witness if she talked to investigators.

A trial is scheduled for Jan. 11.

Terry Tackett’s lawyer filed an emergency request Wednesday to be released from federal prison in Milan so he can attend his daughter’s visitation Friday and burial Saturday.

Prosecutors aren’t objecting, as long as Terry Tackett is shadowed by a deputy U.S. Marshal or police officer.

“This is for defendant’s own security as well as the community as the government has received notification that some family members do not wish defendant to attend although the immediate family has indicated a desire that he be able to attend,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross MacKenzie wrote in a court filing Thursday.

Terry Tackett does not know his daughter died. Relatives are waiting to tell him in person about her death, said his lawyer, Todd Flood.

“We are waiting for the court to address issue and then his family is going to break the news to Terry in person as opposed to allowing him to be alone without any counseling or family,” Flood said Thursday. “We know how much he loved and wanted to be with his daughter and family.”

Jessica Tackett knew nothing about her father’s alleged extortion scheme, her lawyer, Doraid Elder, said Thursday.

“Other than disappointment, she had no ill will towards her father,” Elder said. “She had no knowledge of what her father was doing. It’s sad and unfortunate but she won’t have her day in court.”

Jessica Tackett, who was free on $10,000 unsecured bond, faced up to five years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

“Every time I spoke to her, she had a clear mind,” Elder said. “She was on the wagon; she was sober. She never expressed to me that she wanted to kill herself.

“If it was a narcotics overdose, I would tell you it would not be something intentional. She would never have wanted to leave her son without a mother.”

rsnell@detroitnews.com

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