By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The lust for a bigger payout makes Arizona 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, in desperation, Ocegueda 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 apparently had 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 scissor and attempted to rip his eye out of its socket.
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.
In another case, a 32-year-old migrant was kidnapped last October by two gunmen who demanded $100,000 from his family. Police believe the victim was involved with smugglers, which explains why his family never reported his abduction.
For more than a week, he was locked inside the bedroom of a Phoenix home without food or drink. He overheard his captors say they were tired of waiting for the ransom. They said they were going to bury him alive in a makeshift grave inside the house. Using a concrete saw, the men cut through the foundation and dug a six-foot grave inside a bedroom. While the men tore through the ground, the man managed to free himself through a window. He ran down the street to a nearby house, called police, and the kidnappers were soon arrested by HIKE detectives.
Though he escaped death at the hands of smugglers the first time, he may not have been so lucky after his deportation. He was found murdered a week later in Mexico.
Though the Phoenix area isn't like Mexico—where crime syndicates make fortunes kidnapping powerful and rich people (or sometimes their children) and extorting their families—innocent victims have been kidnapped there.
An illegal immigrant, who had lived in Phoenix for about 10 years, had just stepped off a bus. It was a hot August day last year, and he was walking to his home. 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; 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 10 pollos. They turned over the hostages—including the random kidnapping victim who had led them to the drop house—to federal immigration agents.
About 3 a.m. on May 5, 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, Karely, 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 Karley, who had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. The kidnappers held Karley hostage in a house, demanding $50,000 from her family.