Monday, July 4, 2011

Bordentown raid ends alleged extortion plot; seven other people found in truck on Turnpike (The Trenton Times)

Bordentown raid ends alleged extortion plot; seven other people found in truck on Turnpike
Published: Saturday, July 02, 2011, 7:23 AM
By Alex Zdan/The Times

TRENTON — A frantic call from a distraught Trenton mother this week put city police on an international kidnapping case that led to the safe return of a 15-year-old Guatemalan girl and the discovery of seven illegal aliens in a truck along the New Jersey Turnpike, police said.

Two men were arrested and charged with extorting the teen’s mother through a series of phone calls in which they allegedly demanded thousands of dollars for her daughter’s safe return. The men were arrested Wednesday afternoon after a sting operation in Bordentown Township that concluded an intense 18-hour investigation spearheaded by two city detectives, police said yesterday.

The detectives, Sgt. Jim Dellaira and Sgt. Robert Rios, took the case late Tuesday, when the mother who was allegedly being extorted called police seeking assistance. She told them she believed her daughter had been kidnapped in Texas and that the kidnappers were making monetary demands via phone for her daughter’s safe return.

“She also reported that her daughter was being abused and was hungry and frightened,” Sgt. Tom McDonough, a police spokesman, said in a press release yesterday.

The woman had several phone contacts with the alleged kidnappers, police said. As their investigation proceeded, the detectives found the city resident had paid to have her daughter brought into the U.S. from Guatemala. Once the girl arrived in Texas, she was met by two men who were demanding the mother pay large sums of money over a period of several days so her daughter could be brought to Trenton, police said.

She made the payments out of fear for her daughter’s life, but the girl was never delivered.

As Dellaira and Rios interviewed the woman early Wednesday, the kidnappers called once again. The mother made plans to meet them at a truck stop near Exit 7 in Bordentown Township to make the final payment, police said.

“It was a sting,” Lt. Steve Varn said yesterday.

Rios, Dellaira, and Sgt. Rick Rivera came along with the mother to the drop-off point, as did agents with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Marlton. Five miles south of the exit, authorities watched as the payment was made, police said. Then, they moved in.

Two men were taken into custody: Jose A. Luis-Hernandez, a 27-year-old Honduran, and a man who identified himself as 25-year-old Eddie Garcia but had no documentation to back up his identity.

The teenager and her mother were reunited at the scene. The girl was interviewed, but Varn said he was not sure if she had been released. He declined to comment on whether the mother’s fears of abuse were founded, but said the girl did not need to be transported to a hospital.

While the 15-year-old is apparently in the U.S. illegally, the mother’s immigration status is unclear. Varn said city police are focusing on the extortion investigation and will leave immigration matters to federal authorities.

“That’s something that’s going to end up being beyond our control,” he said of the immigration issue. “The important thing for us was the daughter was in danger and we had to act on that.”

Inside the truck at the arrest scene, the agents found seven other illegal aliens from various countries. They were headed for various drop-off points, McDonough said.

The discovery was completely unexpected, Varn said. Police did not know yesterday whether the families of the people in the truck were being extorted. Homeland Security officials will process the seven people found in the truck. Immigration authorities will handle that part of the investigation, police said.

Luis-Hernandez was charged with extortion and detained by immigration authorities, while the man claiming to be Garcia was charged with theft by extortion as a John Doe. Both may soon face federal charges, Varn said.

Trenton police and ICE are continuing the investigation.

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