The Art of Ordeal

Kidnaped, tortured and nearly killed in a Mexican hellhole, a Phoenix entrepreneur wants to teach others about the perils of doing business south of the border

Krusensterna today is a humble man who appreciates the company of his wife and family. Before he was kidnaped, he was a workaholic, playing the part of the big American company president, traveling to the Reynosa office several times a month and entertaining bigwigs from Mexican firms. Like most Americans abroad, he saw himself as invulnerable. His Mexican manager, Otilio del Angel, would take him to task for driving the highways after dark, but Krusensterna would pooh-pooh his concerns.

"I never thought about it," he says. "I should have been kidnaped earlier."

He admits in his book that he was a textbook ugly American, dropping money at clubs, whooping it up for his Mexican business contacts who would drop him off drunk at his hotel. And he didn't pay any attention to del Angel's suggestions that he tone down his act.

Interior shots of the house where Krusensterna was held captive
Interior shots of the house where Krusensterna was held captive
Ken Krusensterna and Bubba
Paolo Vescia
Ken Krusensterna and Bubba

"I was a foolish, middle-aged man who needed to somehow prove his manhood by carrying on in Mexico like I was some high-profile, corporate bigshot," he writes. "[. . .] I was having an affair with Mexico, not because her people seduced me or because my wife didn't understand me or even because I was stressed from the pressures of work, but because I wanted to feel the excitement and power of making a 'deal' and hitting the big time in the eyes of others. To a man in his 50s, when the toned body doesn't turn the heads of young women any more, there is something irresistible about having people, CEOs of major corporations, look to you to help them make preposterous businesses in a foreign country, or so I thought."

His daughter, Deanne, who had more experience traveling in Mexico, thought he was at risk.

"I would tell Mom, he better watch his ass because he has no rights, he has no authority."

So Ken Krusensterna walked right into trouble.

In his book, Terror in Mexico, Krusensterna discusses the dos and don'ts of conducting business in Mexico, but he doesn't get into how to choose Mexican business partners. He is evasive as to how he found Olademis Gabriela Leyva Ortiz, who went by the name Gabriela. He says that he was connected to her by a Mexican attorney who is no longer around. His Mexican lawyer at the time of the kidnaping says that Krusensterna and Leyva were already business partners when he came into the picture. In his book, Krusensterna distances himself from Leyva, as if she were someone he barely knew and found to be evil. And he is nervous enough about what he says of her that he decided to change her name to Rosa in the book.

After the kidnaping, the Mexican newspapers reported that she and Krusensterna had been romantically involved for as long as three years, which Krusensterna denies. The newspapers got their information from the Mexican police, who also told the same to FBI agents in McAllen. Special agent Jorge Cisneros told New Times that Leyva was rumored to have been a stripper at a gentlemen's club in Reynosa, but a reporter in Reynosa was unable to confirm that.

Krusensterna's Mexican lawyer, Gilberto López Sanavía, and his Mexican manager, Otilio del Angel, both say that on the few occasions they met Leyva, she and Krusensterna seemed more acquaintances than lovers. Del Angel tells New Times that the way gossip travels in his small Mexican town, he would certainly have heard all about such a romance. Krusensterna is sure she set him up. After all, he was kidnaped at her house. She and her mother were initially arrested as conspirators, but, according to the FBI, both women were ultimately let go. And whether she did so under duress, she was the go-between for the kidnapers to Krusensterna's family.

How she came to be Krusensterna's partner is something he can't explain other than to say that some lawyer found her. In his book, he claims that he checked into her background and her family and was satisfied.

Certainly, Americans in Mexico often seem to cast aside basic business sense and put together deals they wouldn't dream of doing in the States. Take, for example, the number of Americans willing to buy property in Puerto Peñasco on a handshake only to discover they have nothing but an empty bank account in return.

Krusensterna entered into a deal in which he thought he was getting around the system. If the government wanted a Mexican co-owner, they'd get one.

He got one -- and more than he bargained for.

Here's his account:

Krusensterna lay gasping on the floor of Leyva's house, his nose pressed into the tile, and every time he tried to turn his head to breathe, he'd get smacked with the butt of a pistol. He'd been there an eternity already when Leyva showed up. She was pressed up against him with the gentlest semblance of force, and the story she told was that she, too, had been kidnaped, that her mother was being held, that the kidnapers had Krusensterna's family as well, and they wanted $350,000 to let everyone go.

Then Leyva started speaking Spanish to the captors, and the only word that Krusensterna understood was c#aacute;llate, "shut up," which she said repeatedly, and it struck him as odd.

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