Pedro Portugal: Are Latin American Kidnappings Coming to the U.S.?

In a chilling discovery made by New York City police raiding a Long Island City warehouse on Monday, Queens-based businessman Pedro Portugal was found after being bound up and held captive for 32 days for an alleged $3 million ransom. While it remains unclear why Portugal was specifically targeted, some are speculating that it was connected to ties with organized Latin American crime, as Portugal's family in Ecuador which owns several small businesses was targeted for the large ransom.

The captors, Eduardo Moncayo of New Jersey, and Christian Acuna and Dennis Alves of Queens, New York, were charged on Wednesday with kidnapping and held without bail. Two other suspects remain at large, Huffington Post reports.

Portugal was plucked from the streets of Queens in broad daylight, when his captors allegedly flashed a phony police badge outside the victim's home and pulled him at knife-point into an idling SUV, placed a bag over his head, and transported him to a Long Island City where he was tortured and abused.

Portugal's family in Ecuador notified authorities after they received a call requesting his mother pay $3 million to a man named "Tito" to guarantee Portugal's release. The kidnappers then allegedly held Portugal for over a month, taking shifts patrolling the warehouse, beating him, threatening to cut off his fingers, and occasionally burning him with acid.

And yet, in a bizarre twist, the New York Times reports the captors brought Portugal a cake on his birthday, not long after initially threatening to kill him.

Police eventually tracked the captors by scouring through databases of criminal offenders who have traveled to and from Ecuador around the time of the kidnapping, leading them to the assailants and their Long Island City warehouse rental. Police disguised as building inspectors came in to eventually rescue Portugal, who stumbled into the arms of a policeman saying "I've been kidnapped" and explaining how he was repeatedly abused and threatened.

It remains unclear how significant the case's ties to Ecuador may be. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, and has a high domestic kidnapping rate (reportedly averaging 11 per week nationally, at an average ransom rate of $362 per victim). In Ecuador, victims (who tend to include tourists and citizens alike) are commonly captured from official taxis, and sometimes connected to organized crime in neighboring Columbia.

The story is particularly alarming as Mr. Portugal, a professional accountant and father of six, was captured straight from his home in broad daylight. As the details still are coming to light, such a brutal kidnapping case on the streets of New York is harrowing to many New Yorkers who fear a connection to broader organized crime with ties to Ecuadorian or Latin American criminal activity.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement that the story was "terrifying" and deserves "vigorous prosecution." If convicted, the suspects could face life in prison.