In broad daylight one January afternoon, on a Phoenix street of ranch-style houses with kidney-shaped swimming pools, Juan Francisco Perez-Torres was kidnapped in front of his wife, daughter and three neighbors, says the Los Angeles Times. Two men with a gun grabbed the 34-year-old from his van and dragged him 50 yards to a waiting SUV. His wife threw rocks at the car, then gave chase in her own SUV. On the phone later, as detectives listened in, kidnappers said Perez-Torres had stolen someone’s marijuana.
More ransom kidnappings happen in Phoenix than in any other town in the U.S. Most every victim and suspect is connected to the drug-smuggling world, usually tracing back to the western Mexican state of Sinaloa, Phoenix police report. Arizona has become the new drug gateway into the United States. Roughly half of all marijuana seized along the U.S.-Mexico border was taken on the state’s 370-mile border with Mexico.One result is an epidemic of kidnapping that many residents are barely aware of. Indeed, most every other crime here is down. But police received 366 kidnapping-for-ransom reports last year, and 359 in 2007. Police estimate twice that number go unreported. In September, police spun off a separate detective unit to handle only these smuggling-related kidnappings and home-invasion robberies.