A clinical social worker from Somers Point is accused of trying to pay for the assault of a Massachusetts man.
Diane Sylvia, who provides mental health counseling in Linwood, thought she was talking to a hitman when she asked that the unnamed target not be killed but instead permanently disfigured, according to the complaint signed by FBI Special Agent Dan Garrabrant.
Instead, she had been put in touch with an undercover FBI agent.
“He needs his pretty little face bashed in, that’s what I really want,” Sylvia said in a recorded conversation, according to the complaint. “A broken arm would help, too.”
Sylvia, 58, was going to use money from a home equity loan to pay for the attack, which she allegedly said was the only way she had to get even for the target’s threats to her job.
He “ended up with some stuff on me that he was gonna report me to the licensing board, which means I have no job,” she explained to the undercover agent.
The investigation began when the FBI was contacted by a confidential informant on Sept. 24.
The informant was a former member of an organized criminal gang who had gone to Sylvia for therapy, the complaint says. But when she found out about her patient’s former connections, she asked for help in killing the unnamed man.
The patient contacted the FBI, and said he would introduce the undercover agent to Sylvia, but then wanted no more involvement with the investigation. He also then discontinued treatment with Sylvia.
After meeting the undercover agent, Sylvia said she didn’t really want the man killed, just beaten and permanently disfigured.
“All he has is, like, his big muscles and his cute face,” she said.
“I really just want his face punched in, I swear to God,” Sylvia allegedly told the agent. “And his arm broken, that’s what I want.”
The undercover agent advised Sylvia to purchase a pre-paid phone to communicate with him about the assault, which she did. Sylvia arranged two more meetings with the undercover FBI agent, all at her office on New Road.
During one of the meetings, Sylvia clarified how she wanted the intended victim assaulted: “Something that makes him not so cute.”
The undercover said the disfigurement could be done with battery acid, but Sylvia didn’t that idea and suggested his face be cut instead.
“Something so he can’t do push-ups, so he can’t work out,” she said.
At one point, it appeared she would be backing out of the deal, citing the patient taking a “break” from therapy. She still said she would pay for work already done.
But after hearing there had been some movement in tracking the target, she kept the plan going, and wound up paying the agent a total of $5,000 cash to carry out the assault plan, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
On her Psychology Today profile, Sylvia says she helps people cope with everyday stress and most mental health conditions.
“Creating safe, supportive relationships is often the key to health,” she wrote.
“By strengthening our sense of self, we can restore functioning and create a life of positive satisfaction,” it continues. “Our words and thoughts are powerful and help create the life we desire. The most important component of therapy is the relationship between the client and therapist and the client’s willingness to make the decision to change.”
Sylvia could face as long as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, if convicted.
Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charges. He also thanked the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, the Atlantic City Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General, the N.J. Department of Human Services Police, the N.J. State Police, and the Northfield Police for their roles in the investigation.