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Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Pedro Portugal Kidnapping Case

     Pedro Portugal owned a small accounting and tax firm in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York. On the afternoon of April 18, 2013, as the 52-year-old married father of six walked to his car on Roosevelt Avenue, he was approached by a man who called out his name and flashed a police badge. Suddenly this man and an accomplice wearing a ski mask grabbed Mr. Portugal and forced him into a SUV driven by a third man who had his face covered as well.

     The abductors, after placing a cloth bag over the victim's head, drove him to an abandoned warehouse in Long Island City, Queens where they had set up a makeshift apartment. Along the way one of the abductors held a knife to Portugal's stomach. They told the victim he would be killed if his mother in Quito, Ecuador didn't pay a $3 million ransom.

     Shortly after snatching the businessman off the street in broad daylight, the man who had flashed the fake badge, identifying himself as "Tito," called Portugal's mother with the ransom demand. While the Ecuadorean family owned some property, they did not have $3 million in ransom money. Immediately after the initial ransom demand, a member of Portugal's family notified the authorities in Ecuador who in turn reported the crime to the New York Police Department.

     The kidnapped man's mother, who demanded proof that her son was alive, spoke to him several times on one of the kidnapper's cellphone. In one of these conversations the victim told his mother that "they're going to hurt me. They're going to cut off my fingers."

     Detectives were able, by tracing the phone calls, to identify three suspects, men with criminal histories who regularly traveled between the U. S. and Ecuador. The New York City Police Department sent five detectives to Ecuador who worked closely with the Ecuadorean police as well as officials with the U. S. State Department.

     In the weeks following the abduction Mr. Portugal's captors burned his hands with acid, punched him in the face and body, and threatened to kill him. In the meantime, detectives began surveilling a Long Island City warehouse after a police officer noticed pizza being delivered to the abandoned building. At night officers saw a light coming through a warehouse window.

     On May 20, 2013, six New York City detectives, disguised as building inspectors, entered the warehouse. Inside they found Mr. Portugal. The abductor guarding the victim that day fled the building but was arrested a few blocks from the warehouse. The victim, whose hands were bound with nylon rope, said, "I've been kidnapped. They got nothing."

     The suspect arrested near the warehouse was Dennis Alves, a 32-year-old Ecuadorean who lived in Queens. Later that day the police arrested Eduardo Moncayo, a 38-year-old from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Moncayo had been the man with the phony police badge. The third member of the abduction crew, 35-year-old  Christian Acuna also lived in the Queens.

     Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown charged the three suspects with kidnapping and first degree unlawful imprisonment. If convicted, all three men faced up to 25 years to life. They were held without bail.

     According to Eduardo Moncayo, the mastermind behind the kidnapping for ransom plot was an Ecuadorean named Claudo Ordonez, also known as "Doctor." Ordonez allegedly paid the three man abduction team $5,000 for the snatch and $800 a week each to guard Mr. Portugal in the warehouse. Mr. Ordonez was currently at large.

     Eduardo Moncayo, in a jailhouse interview with a reporter with the New York Daily News, said, "I made a mistake, but I'm not a criminal." (I don't see how one can mistakenly abduct a man and for a month torture him. That's a crime and the person who commits it is a criminal. People don't go to prison for making mistakes, they go to jail for committing crimes--like this one.)

     In February 2017, Christian Acuna and Dennis Alves, following their guilty pleas, were sentenced to 13 years in prison. The judge sentenced Eduardo Moncayo to the maximum sentence, 25 years behind bars. There were no further arrests in the case.

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