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Originally published November 19, 2009 at 12:21 AM | Page modified November 19, 2009 at 11:41 AM

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Bail lowered for Clearly Lasik doctor in murder-for-hire plot

The co-founders of the Clearly Lasik laser eye clinics found themselves on opposite ends of motions before a King County judge in a murder-for-hire case that has made headlines in two countries.

Seattle Times staff reporter

They're business partners, neighbors and former brothers-in-law.

But in court Wednesday, the co-founders of the Clearly Lasik laser eye clinics found themselves on opposite ends of motions before a King County judge in a murder-for-hire case that has made headlines in two countries.

Dr. Joseph King pleaded with Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson to keep behind bars his longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Mockovak, who faces charges of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder.

Mockovak was arrested after police and prosecutors said he tried to arrange the murders of King and a former business partner.

"My family and I are absolutely terrified," King told the judge. "As I understand it, he tried to have me killed."

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Susan Storey requested Mockovak's bail be raised from $3 million to $5 million.

Mockovak's attorney, Colette Tvedt, countered by asking Robinson to lower the bail to $1 million, saying Mockovak could never afford a $3 million bond. Mockovak, who made millions with the popular clinics, stood next to Tvedt in shackles and red King County Jail scrubs.

"Dr. Mockovak is 51 years old, your honor. He has no criminal history. He has never been arrested," said Tvedt, who noted his personal assets had been frozen as a result of the criminal case.

Robinson lowered the Newcastle eye surgeon's bail to $2 million.

In charges filed Monday, prosecutors allege Mockovak tried to hire a Russian mafia hit man to kill King and former company President Brad Klock. Mockovak pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the two counts of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder.

If convicted, Mockovak faces about 20 years in prison, Storey says.

Seattle police and the FBI learned about the alleged murder-for-hire plot from an employee at Clearly Lasik, court documents said. The employee, Daniel Kultin, told authorities Mockovak was angry at King for his apparent plans to split the company and was upset with Klock for suing the company for wrongful termination.

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Kultin, who immigrated from Russia, told authorities Mockovak asked if he knew anyone in the Russian mafia who could "take care of" Klock and King, charging papers said. Kultin initially thought Mockovak was joking, but when he persisted, Kultin contacted police.

Mockovak told Kultin that King's $5 million life-insurance policy listed either Mockovak or Clearly Lasik as beneficiaries, charging papers allege.

Mockovak was willing to pay Kultin $100,000 for arranging the slayings and to pay the assassin $25,000, charging papers said. The FBI and police watched Mockovak and recorded his conversations, charging papers allege.

Last Thursday morning, the FBI and Seattle police arrested Mockovak while he was at a gym, said FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs. When police searched Mockovak's home they found a copy of King's life-insurance policy on his kitchen table, court papers said.

Clearly Lasik, with clinics in Washington, Oregon and Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, reported earnings of $17 million in 2007. The figure dipped to $10 million in 2008 "due to the weak economy," charging papers said.

News of the alleged murder-for-hire plot has made headlines in Canada, where King once lived and where Klock once played professional hockey, and because of the clinics in that country.

Mockovak's parents and other relatives and friends attended the arraignment Wednesday, sitting only feet from King and his wife. The Yale-educated Mockovak used to be married to King's sister, according to court filings.

Storey, the prosecutor, called Mockovak a flight risk because he has established ties in Canada through Clearly Lasik.

She said that, had Mockovak been successful in his efforts to hire an assassin, it "would have been a murder with international consequences."

"This is a crime committed out of naked greed," Storey said, calling Mockovak "a cold, calculated killer and a clear and present danger to this community."

After the hearing, King's attorney, Anne Bremner, said if Mockovak is freed, her client will hire private security to protect his family.

King lives only a few doors from Mockovak in Newcastle.

Christian Monea, CEO of Clearly Lasik, also attended the hearing but declined to comment afterward.

In a prepared statement released Tuesday, Monea said eye-surgery offices will remain open with King performing the surgeries.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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