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Originally published Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 11:26 AM

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Clearly Lasik co-founder convicted in murder-to-hire plot

Dr. Michael Mockovak, the co-founder of Clearly Lasik eye-surgery centers, was found guilty Thursday of plotting to kill his partner.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dr. Michael Mockovak, co-founder of the popular Clearly Lasik eye-surgery centers, has been found guilty of plotting to kill his former business partner.

King County jurors deliberated for nearly two days before convicting Mockovak on Thursday of one count of criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree theft and attempted first-degree theft. Jurors found him not guilty of a second count of criminal solicitation involving the company's former president.

After the verdict was announced, Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson ordered Mockovak into custody.

Mockovak, 52, had been out on $2 million bail since shortly after his November 2009 arrest.

The Newcastle physician could face nearly 40 years in prison when he is sentenced March 17, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Susan Storey. Mockovak, and his legal team declined to comment after the verdict was read.

Dr. Joseph King, Mockovak's former partner and target of the murder-for-hire plot, issued a statement after the verdict, thanking police and prosecutors.

"My colleagues, my family and I are relieved to put this sad episode behind us," King's statement read.

Prosecutors said Mockovak offered to pay more than $100,000 to have King, a longtime friend, and former company President Brad Klock killed.

Mockovak believed King was "greedy" because of his apparent plans to split the company, and thought his partner was taking advantage of him, according to the charges. Mockovak reportedly was angry with Klock for suing the company after he was fired, prosecutors said.

The Yale-educated Mockovak used to be married to King's sister.

Prosecutors also claimed Clearly Lasik was in a slump at the time Mockovak hatched the murder-for-hire plot.

The eye-surgery centers, with clinics throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, reported earnings of $17 million in 2007, but that figure had dipped to $10 million in 2008, charging papers said.

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Mockovak solicited Daniel Kultin, a Clearly Lasik employee who had immigrated from Russia, to arrange the slayings, prosecutors said. Mockovak believed Kultin could put him in touch with a hit man for the Russian mafia, prosecutors alleged.

But Kultin reported Mockovak's alleged scheme to the FBI, which hired him to work as a confidential informant, according to testimony during the two-week trial.

Kultin was the prosecution's key witness.

The plan was for Mockovak to pay the assassin $25,000, while Kultin would earn $100,000 for arranging the slayings, according to the charges.

On Nov. 7, 2009, Mockovak met Kultin in Tukwila, where he paid him $10,000 cash and gave him a photo of King, charging papers said. Mockovak was arrested five days later.

But Mockovak's lawyers contended that he never intended to hire an assassin, calling his efforts an "immature joke." Defense lawyer Colette Tvedt said Mockovak was "induced" and "persuaded" into the plan by Kultin.

Tvedt said Kultin was eager to work with the FBI.

After learning of the murder-for-hire plot, King and his family moved into a hotel because they were scared to return to their Newcastle home, which is only a few blocks from Mockovak's house, court papers said.

King told investigators that the two men had been close for years and even knew the alarm codes for each others' homes.

"It is incomprehensible how someone could deliberately plan to take someone's life and completely devastate a family," King said in a statement released shortly after Mockovak's arrest. "My family and I were shocked and horrified to learn that a business associate was allegedly planning and ordering my murder."

The state suspended Mockovak's license to practice medicine in January 2010.

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

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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