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John Q. Kelly, the attorney for Natalee Holloway’s mother, recounts his involvement in a sting operation to nab Joran van der Sloot for murder and extortion.
TODAY contributor
updated 6/11/2010 12:58:39 PM ET 2010-06-11T16:58:39

Joran van der Sloot was so desperate for money that $100 — with only a promise of more to come — was all he needed to further an FBI sting operation and spark a chain of events that ended with him confessing to a Peruvian woman's savage death, according to the lawyer who provided the funds.

In a TODAY exclusive, John Q. Kelly, an attorney for Natalee Holloway's mother, offered new details about the sting operation that likely allowed van der Sloot to flee Aruba for Peru.

Van der Sloot has been suspected almost from the beginning of being responsible for Natalee Holloway’s disappearance in Aruba five years ago, and Thursday, Peruvian police told NBC News that he admitted knowing the location of Holloway’s remains. They added that he was willing to tell authorities in Aruba where to find the Alabama teenager’s remains.

In March, van der Sloot reached out to Kelly, demanding $250,000 from Holloway’s mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, in exchange for leading Kelly to the teenager’s remains, Kelly told TODAY.

Kelly said that when van der Sloot contacted him, he did not think he was going to learn the truth. His feelings, he said, were, “skepticism, caution, assuming everything he was going to tell me was false — but I had to understandably think that it might be true, also; so approach it very carefully and keep communicating.”

Kelly agreed to meet van der Sloot alone and brought no money — angering the suspect. Kelly then called the FBI to set up a sting, telling TODAY it only took $100 to convince van der Sloot to start talking with him again.

'A win-win situation'
Kelly said he ultimately decided he couldn’t lose by playing along with van der Sloot's demands for money in exchange for revealing the location of Holloway's remains.

Joran van der Sloot, center, confessed to killing Stephany Flores, left, in a Lima, Peru, hotel room. The young Dutchman has long been a suspect in the 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway, right.

“It was a win-win situation. He was either going to pay the money, and if the information turned out to be true, Beth would get closure, she’d bring Natalie home. Assuming it was false, it would be extortion and wire fraud once falsehoods are proven. Either way, he’d be boxed in,” Kelly told TODAY. Kelly said van der Sloot wanted $25,000 up front, with the rest to be provided when the remains were recovered and proven to be Holloway’s, Kelly said.

So Kelly went to Aruba in April to meet with van der Sloot without telling anyone but his own wife and Twitty. He met van der Sloot for about two hours in a hotel.

“No money, no recording devices. Nobody knew I was there,” Kelly said Friday. “It was Easter Sunday. It was one-on-one in a hotel room for a couple hours. He thought I was bringing the $25,000. I engaged him in a long series of conversations. I was trying to get as much information as I could.”

Van der Sloot wanted money, and when Kelly said he didn’t have it with him, the man got “very angry, very agitated, very upset.”

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Kelly said it was nerve-racking.

“He’s a big guy. He’s 6’4”, 225 [pounds], well built. He’s sort of a threatening individual when he gets angry, no question.”

When Kelly returned to the States, he contacted the FBI and began to set up the elaborate sting with the FBI and Aruban law-enforcement authorities.

He regained van der Sloot’s attention by sending him $100. Then, with a promise that he would bring $25,000, another meeting was set up for May 10 in Aruba.

Image: Joran van der Sloot
Pilar Olivares  /  Reuters
Joran van der Sloot, center, is escorted by Peruvian police officers at the police headquarters in Lima.
This time, Kelly was hooked up with recording devices and rehearsed in how he needed to handle the transaction. He gave van der Sloot $10,000 in cash, establishing extortion, then had $15,000 of Twitty's personal money wired to van der Sloot’s bank account in the Netherlands, establishing wire fraud.

Van der Sloot and Kelly signed a contract, and van der Sloot took the lawyer on a drive to show where Holloway’s remains were. He pointed out a house and said his father had helped dispose of the body in the foundation. It was later determined that the house was not built when Holloway disappeared on her high school’s senior trip and that the information was false.

Van der Sloot himself told Kelly in an e-mail he apparently sent from Peru a week after the meeting that he had lied.

“He indicated it was all a hoax, which is sort of his M.O. with everybody — get the money, then say it’s a hoax and avoid criminal prosecution,” Kelly said.

'He's cold as ice'
After taking $25,000 in exchange for information that turned out to be false, Kelly said van der Sloot could have been arrested for wire fraud and extortion.

But authorities said that more work needed to be done to build the case and van der Sloot was not only left free, he was allowed to leave Aruba for South America, where he would meet Stephany Flores, the woman he confessed to killing, while participating in a poker tournament.

Holloway's mother is “obviously devastated. It’s the second nightmare for her,” Kelly told Lauer of Twitty’s reaction when she learned of Flores’ death. “Another young girl is dead and another family is living the nightmare she went through. Needless to say, she’s distraught right now.”

Kelly said he does not know why van der Sloot was allowed to remain free. “That wasn’t my call,” he said.

He also added that when he walked away from his meetings with van der Sloot having no doubt that the suspect is a psychopath. “You can look right into his eyes and see he’s cold as ice and pathological.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Van der Sloot to reveal Holloway remains?

  1. Transcript of: Van der Sloot to reveal Holloway remains?

    MATT LAUER, co-host: But we begin this half-hour with that development in the Natalee Holloway case. Is Joran van der Sloot ready to show police where the missing Alabama teen is buried? NBC 's Michelle Kosinski is in Lima , Peru , with the latest on this. Michelle , good morning to you.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Good morning, Matt. Yesterday, police went over the details of the case with us, now saying they believe Joran van der Sloot targeted his victim here for robbery, and then suddenly, almost as an afterthought, revealing this, that he's telling them he knows where the remains of Natalee Holloway are and he's willing to tell authorities in Aruba . A crowd gathered for a glimpse of the young man who has horrified Lima while Joran van der Sloot was barely squeezed from the jail under heavy security through a crush of press. Taken to court, but not yet charged. Authorities seem to be leaning toward the most serious accusation, premeditated aggravated murder , carrying the strongest sentence here, up to 35 years in prison. Van der Sloot in his confession told investigators he met business student Stephany Flores at this casino, here they are together on surveillance video on the last evening of Stephany 's life. They played poker, talking and laughing, leaving in her car for his hotel in the early morning hours. Van der Sloot claims inside his room Stephany found out on his computer that he was the suspect in Natalee Holloway 's disappearance, that they argued, she hit him, and he, in a rage, grabbed her by the neck and beat her, so severely her neck was broken. Now, though, police tell a much different story, that Van der Sloot selected, targeted Stephany because she seemed to have a lot of cash, that the motive for murder was money , that he attacked Stephany in that hotel room to rob her. When she resisted, he choked her.

    Mr. CESAR GUARDIA VASQUEZ (Peruvian National Police): He noted that she was still breathing, there were signs of life and with his shirt he covered her face to asphyxiate her.

    KOSINSKI: Police reveal he took all of her cash and credit cards, ditched her car, headed for the airport, then changed his mind, took a cab to the border. He was caught in Chile . And now investigators in Peru say Joran van der Sloot has told them he holds the key to finally finding Natalee Holloway , that he knows where her remains are and will tell authorities in Aruba . There's talk here that Van der Sloot 's attorney may try to seek a lesser

    charge: Homicide under extreme emotional distress with a sentence of three to five years. But a respected newspaper claiming to quote from the police psychological evaluation says Joran van der Sloot is classified as an anti-social psychopath, cold and calculating, who premeditates everything, usually acts with great cruelty, reacts with much violence, and lies too much. Over the years, he's told wildly differing stories about what happened to Natalee Holloway , most recently only weeks before Peru . As part of an undercover sting, the FBI says he told a lawyer for Natalee 's mother that Natalee fell and hit her head on a rock, offered to tell where he claimed he and his father had buried her, all in exchange for a quarter of a million dollars. Her mother supplied $25,000 up front for information that investigators found was also a lie. Police say the story about what he's telling happened here has gaps in it, and because he's told so many stories in the past about Natalee Holloway , more than once for money , there's this question over whether he will finally tell the truth this time or if he's just trying to improve his situation when he seems to have few options, Matt.

    LAUER: All right. Michelle Kosinski in Peru for us this morning. Michelle , thank you.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: John Q. Kelly is the attorney for Natalee Holloway 's mother. He met with Joran van der Sloot in Aruba last month as part of that sting operation . John , good to see you. Good morning.

    Mr. JOHN Q. KELLY (Holloway Family Attorney): Good to see you, Matt.

    LAUER: Before I get to what happened between you and Joran van der Sloot , your reaction to this news overnight that he seems to be now willing to tell police where Natalee Holloway 's body is located.

    Mr. KELLY: Well, I'm sure he's trying to find a way to get out of the corner he's boxed into right now. But it's no secret that he holds the key to where Natalee is and what happened to her. We've always known that.

    LAUER: You've been involved in this story for several years now and it was on March 30th of this year that he reached out to you in an e-mail, basically offering a deal, he would give you information for money . What was your reaction to that initial e-mail?

    Mr. KELLY: Skepticism, caution, assuming everything he was going to tell me was false but had to, you know, understandably think that it might be true also. So approach it very carefully and keep communicating.

    LAUER: You actually approached it from two angles, didn't you? Because on the one hand, if he's going to give you information in exchange for money that leads to finding Natalee Holloway , that's a good thing, at least for her family.

    Mr. KELLY: Sure.

    LAUER: On the other hand , maybe this exchange of money and information could nail him on extortion charges.

    Mr. KELLY: Well, that's it. It was a win-win situation, he was either going to pay the money and the information turned out to be true and Beth would get closure, she'd bring Natalee home. Assuming it was false, it would be extortion and wire fraud, and once, you know, falsehoods were proven. So either way he was going to be boxed in as it had.

    LAUER: So through a series of e-mails, you guys start to proceed further with this deal. It eventually leads to a first meeting in Aruba . Did you bring any money with you to that meeting?

    Mr. KELLY: No money , no recording devices, no one knew I was there. It was Easter Sunday .

    LAUER: Only Natalee 's mom, right?

    Mr. KELLY: Natalee 's mom and my family.

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. KELLY: It was Easter Sunday , it was one on one in a hotel room with he and I for a couple hours.

    LAUER: Tell me about the meeting.

    Mr. KELLY: Just he thought I was bringing the 25,000. And I engaged him in a long series of conversations, tried to get as much information as I could. And then told him at the very end when he was pushing the issue that I didn't have money with me at that time.

    LAUER: Did he get angry about that?

    Mr. KELLY: Very angry, very agitated, very upset, you know, left almost immediately with me walking with him actually.

    LAUER: Do you mind if I share something you told me in a meeting yesterday? This is a big guy .

    Mr. KELLY: Oh.

    LAUER: This is a physically intimidating guy. And when you -- he got angry over the fact you didn't have money , it was nerve-racking for you.

    Mr. KELLY: Oh, he's a big guy , he's 6'4", 225, you know, well built. And he's sort of a threatening individual when he gets angry, there's no question. And had he a shaved head at the time.

    LAUER: The communication between the two of you continues. Now a second meeting is set up, this one for May 10th , also in Aruba , but this time the circumstances were very different.

    Mr. KELLY: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: This thing was right out of a movie, there were cameras and audio recording devices, the FBI was involved. Tell me about that one.

    Mr. KELLY: It was, you know, hatched weeks before. The FBI -- actually, you know, Governor Riley of Alabama , I had reached out to him, he got law enforcement involved in through a series of -- it was actually like a month and a half, psychological cat and mouse with Joran and I. But this was set up for May 10th , you know, the day after Mother's Day . The FBI was involved, the US Attorneys Office .

    LAUER: They trained you in some ways, made sure you would be able to handle your end of this on camera and in the recording.

    Mr. KELLY: Yeah. There were a lot of instructions given, a lot of things I had to follow through on in terms of, you know, speaking, acting, placement, you know, follow-through procedures, safeguards, things like that, sure.

    LAUER: You did have money with you during that meeting, correct?

    Mr. KELLY: When I met with Van der Sloot the second time, I had 10 grand cash.

    LAUER: OK. And actually, as part of the meeting, agreed then to wire an additional 15,000 into his account. So now we're up to 25,000 of the 250,000, which would be the actual agreement.

    Mr. KELLY: That's correct. The first 25,000 was to be up front for what happened to Natalee and where she was.

    LAUER: And so once you paid him that money , he then gave you some information as to her whereabouts. Was he supposed to lead you to where her body was located?

    Mr. KELLY: That was -- that was -- that was part of the agreement we had. And, you know, after spending a lot of time in the hotel room -- as a matter of fact, Matt , just an aside, right before he showed up in the hotel room , all the power went out in the hotel, on the island, there was a power outage.

    LAUER: So you're thinking this meeting's in jeopardy.

    Mr. KELLY: I was thinking I was in jeopardy, the meeting's in jeopardy, everything's in jeopardy at that point. But that being said, we went through with it, then we took a couple of car rides. He took me to the location where he said Natalee was buried and located at that time and...

    LAUER: He said her body was buried in the foundation of a house.

    Mr. KELLY: Yes.

    LAUER: Is that correct? He showed you the actual house?

    Mr. KELLY: I took pictures of him in front of the house pointing to the location and it's memorialized very well.

    LAUER: OK. At that moment, why wasn't he arrested?

    Mr. KELLY: That wasn't my call, you know, I was -- I was just there to execute, the FBI was there, they were terrific guys who were efficient, they were, you know, disciplined, they did their job, they were terrific to deal with. My...

    LAUER: Because if the information 's correct, he's guilty of murder. If the information is incorrect, he's at least guilty of extortion at that moment.

    Mr. KELLY: I would think so, yeah.

    LAUER: OK. It turns out, though, the house he had taken you to, saying she was buried in the foundation, hadn't even been built five years ago when Natalee Holloway disappeared. So this was a scam.

    Mr. KELLY: Exactly.

    LAUER: And did he tell that you in an e-mail eventually?

    Mr. KELLY: Eventually did. About a week later he indicated that it was all

    a hoax, which was sort of his MO all along with everybody: Get the money and then say it's a hoax and, you know, avoid criminal prosecution.

    LAUER: Are you clear that now here money has changed hands, it's turned out to be a hoax. Do you know -- have any idea, and this maybe is not in your, you know, sphere here, but why he was allowed to leave Aruba ?

    Mr. KELLY: Don't know. I mean, my job was done May 11th and, you know, where decisions were made, I don't think it was the FBI field agents that were making decisions, there were higher-ups in Aruba or the US or someone would have had to make that call. Whether they did or didn't or why not, I don't know.

    LAUER: OK. So he has $25,000 of Beth 's money at that point and he goes off to South America . And you've heard the comments now.

    Mr. KELLY: Sure.

    LAUER: Did he travel to South America with the money you got for him and did he then go on and commit this murder? When you talked to Natalee 's mother about this and what eventually happened, especially with the murder of this young girl in Peru , what was her reaction?

    Mr. KELLY: Well, she -- I mean, she's obviously devastated. It's a -- it's a second nightmare for her. You know, she's been, you know, totally committed, totally, you know, determined to always find out what happened to her daughter and bring her home. And, you know, we don't have that answer yet. Another young girl is dead and another family is living the nightmare she went through, too. So needless to say, she's distraught right now just for the other family and the situation.

    LAUER: So you're someone who spent time face to face with Joran van der Sloot ; what's your impression of him? Is he a -- is he a psychopath? What is he?

    Mr. KELLY: He is. He is. You know, I spent a couple hours the first time, I spent over four hours the second time with him and, you know, he's just -- you can look right into his eyes and see he's cold as ice and pathological.

    LAUER: Well, John Q. Kelly. We appreciate you sharing your story with us, John . I appreciate it very much.


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