Witness claims he was kidnapped, held prisoner; LAPD investigates

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Police are investigating the case of a man who says he was kidnapped and held prisoner days before he was set to testify in a criminal case.

Darwin Vela went missing Tuesday while walking his dog.

Police searched for Vela, who was scheduled to testify Thursday in the case of a convicted felon facing a “third-strike” conviction for allegedly breaking into the home of Nicolas Cage’s ex-girlfriend. Thursday came and went with no sign of Vela.

Then on Friday, Vela emerged on the Westside. He flagged down a motorist, who alerted police. Los Angeles police Lt. Julian Melendez said Vela told investigators that he had been abducted and held prisoner for three days. Vela suffered some injuries and was treated by paramedics, he added.


Prosecutors confirmed Friday that Vela and his fiancée were key witnesses against Ricardo Orozco, who allegedly stole computers and other items from the home of Christina Fulton, Cage’s former girlfriend, in August. But officials would not speculate on whether Vela’s disappearance was tied to the case.

Vela’s fiancée, Kelly McLaren, said the couple witnessed the break-in and confirmed they were scheduled to testify.

“Without us, there isn’t a case,” she said.

McLaren took the stand Thursday but invoked her 5th Amendment right not to testify, said Los Angeles County district attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison.

But a police detective took the stand and discussed an encounter involving Orozco, Vela, McLaren and an attorney who has represented actor Charlie Sheen, Robison said.

The detective said that before the break-in, Orozco, Vela and McLaren met with the attorney and told him they knew of a sex tape involving Sheen, Robison said. They said they did not have the tape, the detective testified, and the attorney told them he would talk only to someone who actually had it.

Robison said the alleged 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.

The search for Vela began Tuesday night when McLaren — who skipped the couple’s usual walk — found their dog outside.

“When I came out, I heard the dog crying,” she said. “He was outside alone and Darwin wasn’t there.”

The 90-pound Lab was “cowering,” McLaren said. When she noticed the blood on his leash, she called 911 “right away.”

Officers combed the neighborhood aided by a helicopter and bloodhound, and although the dog briefly picked up Vela’s scent, police found no sign of him. His wallet, keys and cellphone were left behind, McLaren said.

McLaren said her fiancé was “not the type of person” to disappear without notice.



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