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Dentist convicted of killing wife on African safari gets life sentence

Larry Rudolph was sentenced Monday in a Denver federal court for murder for the 2016 death of Bianca Rudolph.
Family of Pittsburgh dentist Lawrence "Larry" Rudolph.
Posted at 9:45 PM, Aug 21, 2023

A judge has handed down a sentence of life in prison and over $15 million in penalties to a wealthy dentist convicted of killing his wife at the end of an African safari.

Larry Rudolph was sentenced on Monday in a Denver federal court for murder in the 2016 death of Bianca Rudolph — as well as for mail fraud. He cashed in nearly $5 million in insurance policies for his wife. Prosecutors say he wanted to live a lavish retirement with his longtime girlfriend using the insurance money.

Rudolph has claimed throughout the case that his wife's death in the southern African nation of Zambia was an accident. 

His lawyers plan to appeal the conviction.

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U.S. government prosecutors also sought to get an estimated $25 million in restitution, seized property and fines from Rudolph. He was also found guilty in federal court last year for mail fraud for cashing in nearly $5 million in insurance policies for his wife, Bianca Rudolph.

A life sentence was required under federal sentencing rules, and the hearing focused mostly on the financial penalties facing Rudolph, with pages after pages of financial transactions discussed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Fields told U.S. District Judge William Martinez that a nearly $10 million fine included in the proposed penalties for Rudolph was 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 say a fine of that amount, much higher than typically allowed, would deny Rudolph's two adult children, Julian and Ana Bianca Rudolph, money they would inherit from their late mother's estate.

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 from the nearest police station, was the perfect place to try to get away with the crime, and that he rushed to have his wife cremated and intimidated officials investigating her death.

They allege the goal was to live a lavish retirement with his longtime girlfriend, Lori Milliron — with the help of the insurance money. Milliron was sentenced to 17 years in prison in June after being convicted of being an accessory. She has filed an appeal.

"The murder was the culmination of a lifetime spent seeking domination and control over others through wealth and power," prosecutors said in a court filing outlining their sentencing proposal.

Larry Rudolph could also get more time in prison for mail fraud. The government also wants him to forfeit millions in assets and pay the insurance companies back.

It was unclear if any family members or friends of Bianca Rudolph would confront the dentist during the hearing.

The couple's two adult children have so far opted not to speak much publicly about the death, although Ana Bianca Rudolph 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, they say they have "suffered considerable financial harm" and are entitled to restitution.

Investigators in Zambia and for the insurers concluded Bianca Rudolph's death was an accident. The insurance companies, some based in Colorado, then paid out the life insurance, according to the defense in court documents. But, Larry 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.

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 also allege he 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 is twice the amount Larry Rudolph received for the life insurance policies as well as insurance for the jewelry his wife was wearing when she was killed. Rudolph reported the jewelry was lost, although officials in Zambia said they gave the items to him. Rudolph's lawyers say the government did not charge Rudolph for that and never proved the allegation.

Prosecutors also want Rudolph to pay $4.9 million in restitution to the insurance companies, forfeit $4.8 million from bank accounts, as well as real estate in Arizona and Pennsylvania and two luxury vehicles — an Aston Martin DB-11 and a Bentley Bentayga — according to court filings.

Rudolph's lawyers say the properties and cars are worth millions and that the combination of penalties totals over $25 million. They say he cannot afford that since he no longer controls his dwindling dental practice, has significant debts and will never be able to earn more money. Rudolph's two adult children control his finances now, according to the defense.

"The truth is that such a fine would serve only to punish and bankrupt the Rudolph children, not Rudolph himself," his lawyers said.

The government estimated Rudolph is worth $15 million, according to the defense in a pre-sentencing report that is not available to the public, but a defense expert during the trial said his worth is now less than $10 million.

Prosecutors argue Rudolph would still have millions of dollars after paying restitution, the fine and having the property seized. Before he went on trial, they say Rudolph claimed to be worth $27 million and argued he did not need the life insurance money he got after his wife died to demonstrate his innocence.

"The adult children are not being punished, nor are they entitled to unjust enrichment from their father's criminal scheme," prosecutors said.