A Florida man pleaded guilty Friday in federal court on charges he was the ransom negotiator for a group that kidnapped a Spanish man in Venezuela, court documents say.
At least one of the phone calls took place while Alvaro Jose Delgado Uzcategui, 32, was waiting outside a Fort Myers elementary school to pick up his child, investigators said.
The incident started on Jan. 26, 2016, when a 28-year-old Spanish man was kidnapped in Venezuela.
The next day, the victim’s family in Spain received a phone call from a man with a Fort Myers number who demanded $500,000 for the man’s release, a plea agreement filed Friday said.
“In later conversations, the ransom caller began to threaten dismemberment of (the victim) if (his family) did not come up with the money,” the plea agreement said.
The ransom caller, who was later identified as Uzcategui, made good on the threat a few days later when he called the family again and said a letter was waiting for them at a nearby store.
Inside the letter, the victim’s family made a horrifying discovery.
“(A family member) and his cousin went to the bar and recovered the letter, which contained a finger wrapped in white gauze inside the gauze packaging,” the plea agreement said.
Fingerprint analysis confirmed that the amputated finger belonged to the kidnapping victim, investigators said.
FBI investigators in Florida were able to use the GPS in Uzcategui’s phone to track him to an address in Fort Myers, court documents said.
While surveilling the suspect, agents reported seeing him outside Orange River Elementary School talking on the phone while waiting for school to get out.
Authorities later confirmed that Uzcategui was on the phone with the victim’s family at the time.
He was arrested during an unrelated burglary in Punta Gorda, police said.
While in custody, Uzcategui admitted he made the numerous ransom calls and told agents that he expected to receive a home in Venezuela as compensation for his role in the kidnapping conspiracy, a criminal complaint in the case said.
The victim’s family was ultimately able to secure his release with a $70,000 ransom payment on March 3, 2016.
Uzcategui pleaded guilty Friday to a charge of using interstate communications in support of ransom.
When sentenced at a later date, Uzcategui could face up to 20 years in prison.
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