Suspects still at large in Queens kidnapping of Ecuadorean national
On Monday, after over a month of investigation, cops rescued the Ecuadorean national allegedly kidnapped in Jackson Heights on April 18, and apprehended three of his suspected kidnappers.
Now police say they have a photo of one of the suspected kidnappers who got away, and are asking the public for help in tracking the suspect down.
According to police reports, the 52-year-old kidnapping victim, Pedro Portugal, a tax accountant and insurance broker, was last seen around 7:30 p.m. on April 18 closing the front gate to his office at 88-06 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, about 32 days before he was rescued in a joint mission between the NYPD’s Major Case Squad and FDNY Fire Marshals.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the Major Case Squad observed food deliveries going into a seemingly empty, darkened warehouse at 38-09 43 Avenue in Long Island City, Queens. They conducted a ruse fire inspection of the warehouse at 3 p.m. on Monday, targeting an area on the top floor where they had noticed, from the outside, a small light.
There they found Portugal being “babysat,” Kelly said. The “babysitter” fled, but two other suspects were apprehended. A third was captured on Tuesday.
Christian Acuna, 35, and Dennis Alves, both with listed addresses in Queens, and New Jersey resident Yeri Moncayo, 38, were all arrested and charged with kidnapping, assault, unlawful imprisonment, and criminal possession of a weapon. If convicted, they will each face up to 25 years to life in prison.
According to reports from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s Office, Portugal was allegedly burned with acid, beaten, and threatened with having his fingers cut off during the 32 days he was allegedly held captive in the warehouse. He reportedly was found with teeth knocked out and swelling and bruising all over his face and body.
D.A. Brown called the kidnapping “a terrifying story.”
According to the criminal charges, Portugal was approached by Moncayo in front of 88-06 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. Moncayo called out Portugal’s name and displayed what reportedly appeared to be an NYPD badge. Cops said Moncayo confessed this to them in a statement, and said he was with Acuna at the time.
Moncayo and the suspect still at large allegedly grabbed Portugal and forced him into an SUV, where Moncayo, the suspect-at-large and another suspect police have not yet apprehended punched Portugal repeatedly and then put a mask over his face so he could not see where they were taking him. In a statement to police, Alves allegedly said that Moncayo and Acuna were the ones who jumped out of the car and snatched Portugal, but that he was present, and all three were present for the ransom call, along with another unidentified suspect.
In the car, the criminal report alleges, a kidnapper lifted Portugal’s shirt and held a knife to his stomach, warning him that if he moved, he would be stabbed. Cops said they caught, on surveillance video from a camera outside 88-08 Roosevelt Avenue, the SUV driving off with the backseat door open and Portugal’s leg hanging out of it.
Allegedly, when they arrived at the warehouse, Portugal was taken to the room at the top floor where he was eventually found, and forced into a chair where his arms and legs were tied up. The kidnappers allegedly punched and kicked him as they demanded money and told him they knew he owned property in the U.S.
Cops said the day after, around 4:30 p.m., Portugal’s cousin called 911 from Portugal’s home in Maspeth and told police Portugal may have been kidnapped, after a phone call from Portugal’s mother in Quito, Ecuador. Portugal’s mother reportedly told him that she received several phone calls between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day from her son asking for money for a business deal with someone named Tito. Later she received other calls from someone she described as having a Columbian accent, cops said, demanding money before putting her son on the phone. She told police her son told her that if she didn’t give them the money they would torture him.
The kidnappers demanded a $3 million ransom from Portugal’s mother in Ecuador in exchange for his safe return, the D.A.’s office said.
When Major Case Squad cops conducted their false fire inspection to get into the warehouse on Monday, a detective reportedly saw Portugal leaving a small room inside of a makeshift apartment on the third floor of the warehouse with his hands bound with cloth and duct tape. Another Major Case Squad detective saw Acuna, one of the accused kidnappers, running out of the warehouse. The detective caught him on the corner of Skillman Avenue and 39th Street.
Cops said Acuna told them he was hired by Alves to watch Portugal for $800 a week. He and Alves reportedly watched Portugal together during the day, and Moncayo watched him at night, and Moncayo reportedly told police he watched Portugal every day except Sunday, and that Portugal had his hands bound and a mask over his head for the duration of the month they had him. Alves told police he planned the kidnapping with another person, who told Alves he would be paid $5,000 to watch Portugal, cops said.
Alves reportedly told detectives, “I didn’t treat him bad, I told him it was just business.”
Five NYPD detectives were sent down to Ecuador to assist in the investigation there, according to Commissioner Kelly, and “significant work” was done by detectives overseas. The Major Case Squad’s investigation was reportedly conducted with the cooperation of the U.S. State Department and the Ecuador National Kidnapping Squad.
Kelly did not definitively say whether the kidnapping was drug-related, but when asked, replied that the NYPD is “not ruling anything out.”
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat