A businessman, who was snatched from a New York street in broad daylight, was bound and burned with acid while being held captive for a month in a city warehouse for a US$3 million ransom his family in Ecuador did not have, US authorities said.
Pedro Portugal, 52, was rescued this week by detectives who had monitored phone calls, noticed pizza deliveries to a deserted area in the borough of Queens and zeroed in on the warehouse, police said. Three men were arrested and charged with kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment. One is still believed to be at large in the US, and three fled to Ecuador, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
Portugal, a father of six who owned a small accounting and tax firm, was burned with acid and spent the better part of a month with his head cloaked, authorities said.
He remained in hospital on Thursday, and authorities said he did not want to speak to the press.
Police said Portugal was approached by three captors on April 18. One flashed what looked like a police badge and called out the victim's name, police said. He was forced into a sports utility vehicle where he was held at knifepoint and bound, then taken to the warehouse.
His mother in Quito, Ecuador, got a call from a man calling himself "Tito" and demanding the ransom, police said.
Kelly said the family had some property but nowhere near enough cash to come up with the sum that was demanded. Five detectives were sent to Ecuador to learn more about the victim and his family. "It's something that we're still investigating … why these people thought that US$3 million might have been available," Kelly said.
Meanwhile, Portugal was burned, beaten and threatened with mutilation and death, authorities said, including threats to cut off his fingertips if the family did not come up with the cash. The man "suffered physical injuries and has been deeply traumatised by the ordeal", said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
On May 20, investigators who had been searching the area noticed a light upstairs in an otherwise dark warehouse. They discovered Portugal with his hands bound in a makeshift apartment.
"The person who was 'babysitting' him, as they called it, got away, but he was arrested very quickly," Kelly said.
Christian Acuna, 35, Dennis Alves, 32, and Eduardo Moncayo were arraigned late on Wednesday and were being held without bail.
According to legal documents, Moncayo said he met a man named Claudio Ordonez, known as "Doctor", and they agreed to kidnap Portugal. The men were accused of being paid between US$800 per week and US$5,000 in total by Ordonez to stay with Portugal at the warehouse.