Art Dealer Clifford Lambert’s Marine Veteran Killer Confesses To Save His Own Skin

Clifford Lambert (pictured), the Palm Springs gay art deal murdered in December 2008, but whose body was never found, might finally have some justice: On the eve of his murder trial, one of killers has confessed to killing the 74-year-old in a fraud scheme.

Craig McCarthy, a 30-year-old former Marine based in San Francisco, is pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter (and a whole slew of fraud related charges). In exchange for likely not facing life behind bars, McCarthy ratted out his accomplices:

That crew includes Niroula, a 29-year-old former exchange student from Nepal implicated in a string of high-dollar cons, and San Francisco attorney David Replogle, 61. Both have pleaded not guilty. … McCarthy’s attorney, Mickie Reed, said in an interview that the deal calls for him to receive a 25-year, 4-month prison term when he is sentenced in January. She called McCarthy unsophisticated, remorseful and poised to take the witness stand at a trial that begins Sept. 7 with jury selection. “He was very unfortunate,” Reed said. “He got caught up in something that very quickly got out of control.”

McCarthy, Niroula, Replogle and two other men are accused of taking part in a brazen scam they dubbed “Operation Craigslist” or “Operation C.L.,” the latter a reference to the 74-year-old victim’s initials. Prosecutors said the crew decided to kill Lambert, sell his home and take all his assets.

They had the most original of schemes.

It all began when Lambert first met one of the defendants, 28-year-old Danny Garcia, online. Later, prosecutor Lisa DiMaria said in a trial brief filed Friday, Niroula called Lambert while posing as an estate lawyer named “Samuel Orin.” He allegedly told Lambert he was in line for an inheritance from the estate of Morton May, the late former director of May Co. department stores.

On Dec. 5, 2008, DiMaria said, Niroula went to Lambert’s house with McCarthy and a classmate of McCarthy’s from Heald College, 27-year-old Miguel Bustamante. The prosecutor said McCarthy and Bustamante had been offered a split of $30,000. According to McCarthy, Bustamante grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Lambert repeatedly in the back. DiMaria said the two men stuffed Lambert in the trunk of his Mercedes-Benz, bought a shovel at Home Depot and buried Lambert in the desert the next morning.

The only thing that could make the case more titillating is a sex angle. Oh, wait.