A Los Angeles man’s story of being kidnapped while walking his dog last week -- just days before he was supposed to testify in a celebrity-linked burglary case -- has been deemed a ruse, police said.
Police spent three days looking for Darwin Vela, 22, after his dog returned to their Southwest L.A. home alone the night of Nov. 19. Vela’s fiancee said she called 911 after spotting blood on the chocolate Labrador’s leash.
Vela was found Friday afternoon, after he flagged down a motorist on the Westside. Vela -- who had some injuries and was treated by paramedics -- initially told investigators he had been kidnapped and held prisoner, LAPD Lt. Julian Melendez said.
Now, police say that story is false.
“It was a hoax," Los Angeles police Cmdr. Andy Smith said. “It did not occur.”
Smith said detectives are still looking into where Vela spent the three days, and whether his fiancee, Kelly McLaren, knew of the ruse. Vela could face charges for the hoax, he added.
Police said his story later changed and there were inconsistencies about what allegedly occurred.
On Monday, Vela and McLaren were arrested at an Inglewood motel on suspicion of burglary in connection with an Aug. 25 break-in at the home of Christina Fulton, the ex-girlfriend of actor Nicolas Cage. McLaren and Vela were supposed to testify at a preliminary hearing last week against Ricardo Orozco, who was ordered to stand trial in the burglary.
Computers and other items were taken from Fulton’s home, police said. Authorities are also investigating whether a Rolex watch taken from the home in April is connected.
McLaren told The Times last week that she and her fiancee had worked at Fulton’s home and witnessed the August break-in. “Without us, there isn’t a case,” she said.
Though McLaren invoked her 5th Amendment right not to testify at Orozco’s preliminary hearing on Thursday, a police detective testified that McLaren, Vela and Orozco had contacted an attorney for Charlie Sheen prior to the burglary about a purported sex tape involving the actor.
According to Los Angeles County district attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison, the detective testified that when Orozco, Vela and McLaren told the attorney they did not have the tape, the attorney told them he would talk only to someone who had it.
Robison said the supposed sex tape has not materialized, and officials question whether it even exists. McLaren declined Friday to comment on the detective’s testimony, saying she was not in the courtroom at the time and did not hear it.
McLaren reported Vela missing Nov. 19 when she said she found the couple’s dog, alone and “cowering,” outside their home.
“When I came out, I heard the dog crying,” she said. “He was outside alone and Darwin wasn’t there.”
Officers searched the neighborhood but found no sign of Vela, though his wallet, keys and cellphone were left behind, McLaren said.
On Monday, a little more than an hour before her arrest, McLaren posted a Facebook message saying she was “ever so grateful to have my fiance back with me” but dismayed at the media.
“I am truly disappointed and saddened that the media, which had been so helpful, has decided that twisting a victims story for their own resolve is acceptable when it is only shameful.”
Jail records showed McLaren and Vela posted $20,000 bail and were released early Tuesday. Both are scheduled to appear in court Dec. 16. McLaren did not return calls seeking comment.