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Officers Free 16 Illegals, Arrest 3 Kidnap Suspects

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Officers working on a tip from a relative freed 16 undocumented Mexican immigrants who were held by kidnapers in a Florence-area apartment for more than two days without food or water, authorities said.

Five suspects were taken into custody. The abductions apparently took place after the suspects helped the victims illegally cross the border.

Huntington Park police said they were contacted by a local family who said kidnapers were holding a relative and threatening to kill him if the family did not pay a ransom.

Authorities said undercover officers met two of the suspects--Marcos Lopez, 24, and Juan Contreras, 21--and their victim at a gas station at Florence and Compton avenues, where the family was to have handed over the ransom. After the arrests, police learned that 15 more people--13 men, one woman and a 1-month-old infant--were being held in a nearby apartment, Detective Kenneth Rulon said.

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About 1:30 p.m. Friday, Huntington Park police and deputies from the sheriff’s Firestone station raided the apartment in the 1300 block of 76th Place, where they arrested a third suspect, Antonio Garcia, 33.

All three suspects were booked on suspicion of conspiracy to commit kidnap for ransom. Contreras also was charged with being in possession of a stolen gun.

Police said 16 of their victims had been crammed into a 400-square-foot apartment.

“The apartment was rat and cockroach infested. The plumbing wasn’t working, so it was pretty bad in there,” Rulon said.

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Two other men who apparently helped the group cross the border but who were not involved in the kidnaping were turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for prosecution, Rulon said.


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