DENVER (AP) — A wealthy dentist convicted of killing his wife at the end of an African safari in Zambia was sentenced to life in prison Monday for a murder prosecutors say capped off a lifetime “spent seeking domination and control over others through wealth and power.”
A judge also handed down penalties of more than $15 million for Larry Rudolph, who was convicted last year in federal court of killing Bianca Rudolph and cashing in nearly $5 million in insurance policies on her life. Larry Rudolph was also convicted of mail fraud.
U.S. government prosecutors argued that Rudolph hoped to live a lavish retirement with his longtime girlfriend using the insurance money he collected following his wife’s 2016 death. At the hearing in a Denver federal court, prosecutors sought an estimated $25 million in restitution, seized property and fines from the disgraced dentist.
Rudolph has claimed throughout the case that his wife’s death in the southern African nation was an accident. His lawyers plan to appeal the conviction.
“We still believe strongly in Larry’s innocence. We are looking forward to vindicating him on appeal,” said Rudolph’s lawyers, David Oscar Markus and Margot Moss.
The penalties for Rudolph include a combination of fines and property forfeiture. Rudolph also got a 20-year prison term to be served at the same time as his life sentence.
Prosecutors say Rudolph, who owned a Pittsburgh-area dental franchise, shot his wife of 34 years in the heart with a shotgun on her last morning in Zambia, and then put the gun in its soft case to make it look like she had accidentally shot herself while packing. The couple had been hunting game during their trip.
They also claim the setting, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) from the nearest police station, was the perfect place to try to get away with the crime, where he rushed to have his wife cremated and intimidated officials investigating her death.
Rudolph’s longtime girlfriend, Lori Milliron, was sentenced to 17 years in prison in June after being convicted of being an accessory. She has filed an appeal.
With a life sentence required under federal sentencing rules, Monday’s hearing focused mostly on the financial penalties facing Rudolph, with page after page of financial transactions discussed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Fields told U.S. District Judge William Martinez that steep financial penalties for Rudolph were necessary to ensure he does not have the ability to seek revenge — whether through frivolous lawsuits or hiring hit men — from behind bars.
“That is his power, that is his control,” Fields said of Rudolph’s wealth.
But Rudolph’s lawyers said a fine of that amount, much higher than typically allowed, would deny Rudolph’s two adult children, Julian and AnaBianca Rudolph, money they would inherit from their late mother’s estate.
Julian and AnaBianca Rudolph have so far opted not to speak much about their mother’s death, although AnaBianca testified against Milliron at her sentencing. They are fighting for some of the financial penalties the government wants their father to pay, asking the court to treat them, not the insurance companies, as the victims of the insurance fraud.
In a court filing, the siblings say they have “suffered considerable financial harm” and are entitled to restitution.
Investigators in Zambia and for the insurers initially concluded Bianca Rudolph’s death was an accident. The insurance companies, some based in Colorado, then had to pay out the life insurance because of her death, according to the defense in court documents.
But Rudolph was arrested nearly five years after her death following an FBI investigation that sent agents traveling around the world to collect evidence and interview witnesses.
A bartender at a steakhouse in Phoenix, where Milliron moved to be with Rudolph after his wife’s death, said he overheard Rudolph saying “I killed my f—g wife for you!” during an argument they were having in early 2020. However, Brian Lovelace testified that he could not hear the words right before that statement because music was playing.
Rudolph testified that he actually said, “Now they’re saying I killed my f—g wife for you!” after learning that the FBI was investigating him.
Prosecutors allege Rudolph built his wealth on fraud. They say he shot off his thumb during a previous visit to Zambia to collect millions in disability insurance money.
They allege he also cheated his dental patients, creating the need for root canals by not doing fillings or drilling holes in their teeth while they were asleep.
The fine sought by the government was twice the amount that Rudolph received for the life insurance policies and insurance for the jewelry Bianca Rudolph was wearing when she was killed. Rudolph reported that the jewelry was lost although officials in Zambia said they gave the items to him.
His lawyers say the government did not charge Rudolph for that and never proved the allegation.