Kidnapping Scams, Common in Mexico, Find Way to Houston

Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle, January 25, 2008

A chilling voice mail came over Delfino Ramirez Diaz’s cell phone: His pregnant and sobbing girlfriend told Ramirez she’d been snatched by kidnappers and only a ransom of $10,000 would stop them from inducing labor and selling their twins on the black market.

“Help me, my love! Help me!” Maria Isabel Puente said in Spanish. “They said they are going to give me an herb to remove my babies,” she continued. “I love you so much. Whatever happens, I love you so much.”

The incident, which police said played out quietly in Houston last week, turned out to be a scam.

Kidnapping scams, such as people staging their own abductions, are common in Mexico, the birthplace of both Ramirez and Puente. But authorities said they now appear to be popping up in Houston, with three in the past few months.

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Police say Puente, 38, had conned Ramirez into believing she was pregnant. Officers arrested her on a felony theft charge.

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Targeting immigrants

Immigrants are falling victim to the old crime with a new lease on life, and police are spending numerous hours scrambling to save a supposed victim, said Lt. Murray Smith of the homicide division, which handles approximately six legitimate kidnappings a year.

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Retired FBI agent Raul Salinas, who taught anti-kidnapping courses to Mexican police and is now mayor of the border city of Laredo, said kidnapping scams are so common in Mexico that there is a term for them—autosecuestro—which basically translates as “self-kidnapping.”

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