A suspected human smuggler is behind bars after allegedly holding a 9-year-old Ecuadorian boy hostage for more than four months and demanding $4,000 from his family for his release.
Ecuadorian nationals, the family was unable to pay the ransom, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were able to broker a different deal: pay the man nothing, bust into his house to rescue the kid, and then arrest the alleged smuggler.
That plan went off without a hitch, and the boy was rescued last Friday.
The 9-year-old victim was separated from his mother while they were illegally crossing the border in southern Arizona on May 4.
ICE spokesman Vincent Picard tells New Times the mother ended up back in Ecuador and that the boy ended up in the hands of smugglers.
Picard says the mother called ICE's tip-line last Thursday to report the boy missing. The information she provided led police to an apartment complex in the 900 block of West Main Street in Mesa.
Agents put the apartment under surveillance and confirmed the boy was held there. Agents then moved in, rescued the boy, and took custody of the suspected smuggler, 25-year-old Mario Fernandez-Fernandez, a Mexican national.
Picard wouldn't say what information led agents to the apartment or why the mother waited four months to report her son missing. He says in other, similar cases, the delay is often because the family is negotiating the ransom with the kidnapper.
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"It's often a last-ditch effort by the family when they call us," he says.
Fernandez-Fernandez was in court this morning where he was formally charged with human-smuggling violations.
This case is all-too-familiar here in the Valley, as documented in the New Times feature Seized. Check it out here.
"Parents who contract with human smugglers should remember they are delivering their children into the hands of criminals, criminals who are often all too willing to put a child's welfare at stake for their own personal gain," says Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Arizona.