Tuesday, August 28, 2007
[ Update : Click here to hear Amy Isackson's phoned-in update following Tuesday's court proceedings.]
A man who was kidnapped and held for ransom in a Chula Vista home takes the stand again this morning to testify against his alleged captors. The victim, Eduardo Gonzalez Tostado, was chained and blindfolded for eight days in June while his kidnappers tried to extract a million dollars from his family. KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson has the story.
Eduardo Gonzalez Tostado says one day last May he found a note at the front door of his $1.5 million Chula Vista home. It said it was urgent he call some one named Robert.
During yesterday's preliminary hearing, Gonzalez says told Assistant District Attorney James Fontaine, he went to a pay phone later that night and dialed the number.
Gonzalez: He wanted money. Did he say what for? Yes, because bad people wanted to kidnap me. Did he say how much money? Yes, $50,000. Did he tell you what you'd get in exchange? The names and everything of the people that were going to kidnap me.
Gonzalez says he eventually offered to pay the man $5,000 so he'd go away. However, Gonzlaez was kidnapped a few weeks later. Prosecutors say the so-called Robert was part of the kindapping ring. He remains at large.
Gonzalez told the court he grew up in a wealthy family in Ensenada. He says, as a teenager, he always drove new cars because his dad managed a dealership.Gonzalez says he's earned a bit of fame in Mexico because he's a champion off-road car racer.
He says since he's moved to San Diego eight years ago, he's created his own wealth, with two car dealerships, a transportation business for maquiladoras and a restaurant in Tijuana.
FBI agent Lauren Wood testified that she helped Gonzales' family track down the kidnappers. She described how an initial $200,000 ransom payment was delivered in a briefcase equipped with a tracking device. She says that lead the FBI to the house were Gonzales was being held. That's where five of the defendants were arrested.
Woods says when the FBI arrived, one of the presumed kidnappers pretended to be the victim.
Wood: He came out of the house with a bandage around his head and handcuffed. He had two credit cards in the name of Eduardo Gonzalez in his wallet which was in his pants pocket.
Woods says keys dropped on the ground.
Wood: They were found to belong to the padlocks where Eduardo Gonzalez was chained to.
Wood says during his eight days in captivity, Gonzalez saw four of the men out of the bottom of his blindfold. She says Gonzalez could also identify them by their voices.
Woods says one, who was in charge of the cooking, told Gonzalez that if the bosses said kill him, they would.
The six men are believed to be members of a kidnap and murder crew that law enforcement says has operated in San Diego during the last couple of years and targets members of Tijuana's Arellano Felix Drug Cartel.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Amador says he doesn't have evidence as to why Gonzalez was targeted.
Amador: We can make some inferences. He has a lot of money. He is a well known guy. Maybe people believe his family is involved in things where they wouldn't report it. But, they were wrong and this time they got caught.
Kidnap for ransom cases have exploded across the border in Tijuana during the last few years. Amador says they're now a worrisome trend in San Diego.Amy Isackson, KPBS News.