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Posted: 10/8/2007 6:34:47 AM EST
Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande


Someone kidnapped a Mexican immigrant from the streets of Richmond last week and demanded money from a relative in exchange for his safe return, police say.

Though the victim's brother-in-law complied, police say the family has not heard from the kidnappers in nearly a week, and authorities do not know what became of the victim.

"This is an extremely difficult case," Detective Terry Miles said. "We don't know much about the victim or about the suspects."

The brother-in-law called police Sept. 26 after receiving a threatening call on his cell phone. The anonymous caller said he would kill the brother-in-law, whom police did not identify, if he did not pay $5,000 via Western Union.

The brother-in-law, who moved to Richmond a few years ago and sells corn from a pushcart, did not have $5,000, Miles said. But the caller knew a great deal about him, including where he lived, what his home looked like and the license plate number of his car.

The same caller phoned again later that day, prompting the brother-in-law to make a police report. The calls came from different phones with area codes in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, police said.

The brother-in-law also talked about the calls with the victim, identified as Carlos Rodriguez, who said he had no idea who would make such threats. Rodriguez, who is undocumented, moved in with his brother-in-law about two weeks earlier to make money selling corn.

Rodriguez
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arrived from Mexico about three months ago, Miles said. The brother-in-law explained to police that he paid to bring his relative to the United States via a coyote, a slang term for someone who smuggles Mexican immigrants into the country.

Rodriguez and his brother-in-law parted from their home about 2 p.m. Sept. 28, heading different directions to sell corn. Rodriguez did not come home when expected.

The brother-in-law got a third call from the anonymous man Sunday morning. This time the call came from a blocked number. The caller said, "We have your brother-in-law, and we're going to kill him if you don't pay us," Miles said.

The kidnapper then briefly allowed Rodriguez to speak to the brother-in-law. He said he was in Arizona, and that the people who took him meant what they said.

The brother-in-law told the kidnapper that he did not have $5,000, and was told to wire what he had to a location in Mexico via Western Union. The brother-in-law sent about $2,400, Miles said.

The kidnapper called once more Sunday evening, accusing the brother-in-law of placing a hold on the wired money, which he had not done. The brother-in-law said there was no hold on the money, and someone picked it up soon after, Miles said.

That was the last the family heard from either the kidnappers or Rodriguez.

Miles said the brother-in-law trusts Rodriguez, who has been in the family for nine years, and also the coyote, whom he would not identify. Miles said the brother-in-law previously had used the coyote successfully and without incident.

While police lack much solid information about the case, an FBI spokeswoman confirmed that the federal agency is assisting the investigation. The Mexican consulate in San Francisco did not return a call Friday.

Richmond police have not investigated any similar cases, Detective Sgt. Mitch Peixoto said. Antonio Medrano, a longtime Latino activist in Western Contra Costa County, said he has never heard of a local kidnap-for-ransom scheme targeting his community.

But undocumented immigrants are extremely vulnerable to crime because of their relative anonymity, language barriers and fear of deportation. Immigrant workers in the region frequently get ripped off by dishonest, under-the-table employers as well as muggers, Medrano said.

"They are vulnerable. Many of them are afraid of la migra," Medrano said, using the Spanish word for immigration authorities. "And any kind of threats made to them, they give in too easily, because they come from countries where the police are not to be trusted."

Peixoto stressed that Richmond police want to help immigrant crime victims, do not enforce federal immigration law and do not provide information about victims to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Anyone in a situation like this one should call the police department as soon as possible," Peixoto said. "We don't care what your status is. We're here to help."

Rodriguez moved into the home of his brother-in-law in the North Richmond area last month. He stands about 5 feet 9 inches, and his brother-in-law said he is 25. Residents may have seen him selling corn on the street in the neighborhood. Police do not have a photo of the victim.

Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or kfischer@bayareanewsgroup.com.

HOW TO HELP

Richmond police ask anyone with information about the kidnapping of recent immigrant Carlos Rodriguez to call Detective Terry Miles at 510-620-6860 or call the anonymous tip line at 510-232-TIPS (8477). Tips in Spanish are welcome.
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