By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
They smelled an opportunity for a bigger payout.
Still on the road minutes later, Mendez's car was overtaken in Phoenix and cut off by a car containing the same coyotes who had just let his family go. Armed men jumped out, and one of them ripped Mendez from the driver's seat. They then drove off in his vehicle with his family again in their custody. Soon, a phone call came from a man demanding even more money.
Reluctantly, Mendez alerted police. After HIKE detectives worked the case for three days, they were able to rescue the hostages and arrest the kidnappers. The hostages were questioned and turned over to ICE, and the coyotes were held for prosecution.
The lust for a bigger payout makes Valley residents who freelance for smuggling operations especially vulnerable. Competitors see these part-time coyotes as a pipeline to cash.
Jaime Andrade had a regular job as a mechanic but sometimes dabbled in human smuggling, earning $100 apiece to find recently smuggled immigrants a place to work and live. In April 2006, two men dragged him out of his Phoenix home after one of them hit him over the head with a baseball bat. The kidnappers attacked him in front of his girlfriend, Ariel Ocegueda, and their children, and demanded that Ocegueda tell them where Andrade kept his money.
There was no money, she told them — but they weren't convinced and demanded $50,000. After the kidnappers left with Andrade, Ocegueda, in desperation, called Phoenix police, despite the abductors' threats that she had better not report them.
Inside the west Phoenix house where they took him, the kidnappers tied Andrade to a chair in a bloody closet, which had apparently been used to torture previous victims. He could hear screams as kidnappers unleashed horrific attacks on hostages locked up in other rooms. Like them, Andrade endured ferocious assaults. While his girlfriend listened on the phone at one point, they burned his back with cigarettes and a blowtorch. They stabbed his hand, cut his ears and fingers with scissors, attempted to rip his eye out of its socket, and split open his eyebrow.
Then they ordered him to bend over.
The attackers rained blows on him when he refused, and forced his legs apart. Andrade's blood-curdling screams elicited no mercy from the men as they rammed him with a broomstick, a pair of scissors, and a thick wooden dowel, shredding his colon. Andrade endured four days of such torture before police were able to track down the kidnappers and rescue him.
Andrade recovered and was allowed to stay in the United States to testify against one of his tormentors, now serving a 54-year prison sentence in Arizona.
Though the Phoenix area isn't like Mexico — where crime syndicates make fortunes kidnapping random powerful and rich people (or sometimes their children) and extorting their families — innocent victims have been kidnapped locally.
An illegal immigrant, who had lived in Phoenix for about ten years, had just stepped off a bus. It was a hot August day last year, and he was walking to his home nearby. A van pulled up beside him, and men with guns jumped out and forced him inside the vehicle. They sped away to a drop house a few miles away. The man was locked up for four days before his family was able to scrounge together the $2,800 ransom. Once they paid it, he was freed.
The man went to police and led IIMPACT detectives to the house where he had been held. Police later learned that the victim was grabbed off the street because one of 11 undocumented immigrants whom the kidnappers were holding hostage had escaped: They had to replace the escapee or pay their boss the ransom out of their own pockets.
Cops arrested two suspects and rescued ten pollos. They turned over the hostages — including the random kidnapping victim who had led them to the drop house — to federal immigration agents.
On May 5 around 3 a.m., four men with handguns stormed a Maryvale home where U.S. citizens Estephany Sauceda, her infant child, and her mentally challenged 22-year-old sister, Karley, were sleeping. The men demanded drugs and money, saying they were looking for "the man with the white car." Sauceda told them that they didn't have any drugs or cash. Investigators believe that the men were looking to collect on a drug debt, possibly for 1,300 pounds of marijuana that had been stolen from them. Sauceda's boyfriend had ties to the suspected thieves, but he had been in jail for more than a month on unrelated charges.
The intruders didn't care. One way or another, they would recover their losses. The gunmen decided to kidnap Sauceda, but she told them she had to take care of her baby. So they took Karely, who had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. The kidnappers held her hostage in a house at 48th Street and Baseline Road, demanding $50,000 from her family.
The captors assaulted the girl and threatened to cut off her fingers if the money wasn't paid. After nine days, HIKE detectives found the dwelling, and on May 19, a SWAT team burst in and freed Karely.