NYPD: Merchant held for ransom, tortured for month
NEW YORK (AP) — A businessman was snatched from a New York City street in broad daylight, then held captive for more than a month in a warehouse where he was bound and burned with acid as he was held for a $3 million ransom his family back in Ecuador did not have, authorities said.
Pedro Portugal, 52, was found this week by detectives who had been monitoring phone calls, noticed pizza deliveries to a deserted area in Queens and zeroed in on the warehouse, police said. Three men were arrested and charged with kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment; one is still believed to be at large in the U.S., and three fled to Ecuador, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Thursday.
Portugal, a father of six who owned a small accounting and tax firm in Queens, was burned with acid and spent the better part of a month with his head cloaked, authorities said. He remained hospitalized Thursday, and authorities said he did not want to speak to the news media.
Police said he was approached by three captors on April 18. One flashed what looked like a police badge and called out the victim's name, police said. He was forced into an SUV where he was held at knifepoint and bound, then taken to the warehouse. His mother in Quito, Ecuador, got a call from a man calling himself Tito and demanding a $3 million ransom, police said.
Kelly said the family had some property — but nowhere near enough cash to come up with the ransom. Five detectives were sent to Ecuador to learn more about the victim and his family.
"It's something that we're still investigating to see why these people thought that 3 million might have been available," Kelly said.
Meanwhile, Portugal was burned, beaten, and threatened with mutilation and death, authorities said, including threats to cut off his fingertips if the family didn't come up with the money. The man "suffered physical injuries and has been deeply traumatized by the ordeal," Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
On May 20, investigators who had been casing the area noticed a light upstairs in the otherwise dark warehouse in Long Island City. They went in and discovered Portugal with his hands bound in a makeshift apartment.
"The person who was 'babysitting' him, as they called it, got away, but he was arrested very quickly," Kelly said, praising the detective work.
Luis Lopez, vice consul of Ecuador in New York, said police kept the consulate informed about the investigation.
Christian Acuna, 35, and Dennis Alves, 32, both of Queens, and Eduardo Moncayo, of Lyndhurst, N.J., were arraigned late Wednesday and were being held without bail.
According to the criminal complaint, Moncayo said he met a guy named Claudio Ordonez, known as "Doctor," and they agreed to kidnap Portugal. Moncayo is accused of flashing the fake police badge that caused Portugal to stop on the street.
The men were accused of being paid between $800 per week and $5,000 total by Ordonez to stay with Portugal at the warehouse.
David Strachan, a lawyer for Moncayo, said his client was presumed innocent. "And I am going to defend him with the greatest of my abilities," he said.
Alves' arraignment attorney had no comment, and the attorney for Acuna didn't return a call seeking comment. Ordonez was at large, as was an unknown man wearing a red vest who was captured on shown footage at a Chase bank in Manhattan trying to withdraw money from Portugal's account.
Associated Press writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this report.