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Former Newport Beach Banker Is Kidnaped in Minnesota, Escapes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former vice chairman of Wells Fargo bank was kidnaped early Monday in Minneapolis by an elegantly dressed man armed with a knife and a handgun.

John F. Grundhofer, 51, who recently moved to Minneapolis from Newport Beach, was driven to a rural area of Wisconsin and forced to call in his own ransom on a car phone. But the newly appointed chairman of First Bank Systems escaped unharmed from his captor two hours later and ran to a nearby farmhouse to call for help.

“I have no idea why this took place,” Grundhofer said through a spokeswoman. “Right now, I have a bank to run and that’s what I intend to do,” he said.

Grundhofer’s experience comes just weeks after his daughter, Karen Grundhofer, a UC Berkeley senior, was injured when a deranged gunman opened fire in a Berkeley hotel bar, killing one person and wounding six.

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“He’s obviously just very relieved and trying to relax,” said Karen Grundhofer. “We both can’t believe what’s happened to us. These two situations are almost like TV movies come true.”

FBI spokesman Byron Gigler said Grundhofer’s kidnaping was well executed and precisely timed, although agents in Minneapolis do not believe it was the work of a professional criminal.

“It’s evident that he (the abductor) was stalking Mr. Grundhofer and knew his movements,” Gigler said. “It didn’t happen by chance.” He refused to speculate on motive.

Grundhofer was getting out of his car in the Pillsbury Center parking garage in downtown Minneapolis around 8 a.m. Monday when the man ordered him at gunpoint to get back into his Mercedes sedan.

The abductor, described as a heavyset man in his early 50s and wearing thick glasses and a brown tweed hat, climbed into the car and ordered Grundhofer to drive toward Wisconsin.

Along the way, the gunman forced Grundhofer to use his car phone to read a ransom note to a secretary at First Bank System, a multi-bank institution based in Minneapolis.

The FBI refused to disclose the amount of the ransom demand. “There was a financial demand made,” said Gigler. “We can’t put out the amount of money requested.”

Once the men reached a wooded area of St. Croix, Wis., Grundhofer was left alone long enough to escape. The abductor’s description was released throughout the Midwest, where authorities are searching for him and Grundhofer’s missing Mercedes.

First Bank System, the 36th largest bank holding company in the United States, hired Grundhofer away from Wells Fargo last January after First Bank’s losses undermined its credibility on Wall Street. Until taking that job, Grundhofer was based in Los Angeles, where he was in charge of Wells Fargo’s Southern California banks.

Just weeks into his job in Minneapolis, Grundhofer announced the layoff of hundreds of employees and the termination of executive perks, including club memberships.


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