San Diego Under mysterious circumstances, Tijuana kidnap victim Georgina Romero de Crespo was released last week, a day after the Reader wrote about her monthlong disappearance, and is safe at her home in the Coronado Cays. No arrests have been made. "I think it is a little bit difficult to talk about this," says her mother, Georgina Serrano de Romero, "except she's back safely." According to Tijuana's El Mexicano newspaper: "Details of Georgina Romero's release are not known. Nor is the ransom amount, although during the kidnap police sources had indicated that the amount demanded by the kidnappers was around $3 million." Though she wouldn't provide a figure, Romero's mother says the family didn't pay that much. "Three million? Of course not! We don't have that money. I think it's very [irresponsible] that anyone can [claim] it was an amount like this. As I told [Tijuana's weekly] Zeta, we are not such a rich family. We work, we represent interests from several parts of the Mexican Republic. We are in a [situation] where our [affluence] could be seen as more than it is." Serrano says she doesn't feel her family is part of the "aristocracy" of San Diego. "We just don't have the level to be in that [social] position," she says. Both Baja California's state kidnap unit and San Diego's FBI authorities confirmed that they had been asked to "back off" from the investigation, presumably because the family wanted to deal directly with Romero's kidnappers. U.S. News and World Report claims that kidnaps are growing south of the border. The magazine says that in Mexico, kidnapping is "said to be a $60 million annual industry." K&R (kidnapping and ransom) insurance has mushroomed into a $150 million-a-year specialty. -- B.M.
State investigators are looking into "irregularities" in the sale of hunting and fishing licenses in the California Department of Fish and Game's South Coast Region, which is run out of headquarters here in San Diego. Although Fish and Game officials are unwilling to reveal much about the ongoing probe, they confirm that agents from the state Department of Justice were called in after an internal audit found that many more licenses were missing from the five counties covered by the San Diego office than could be accounted for by recorded sales. Officials refused to estimate the scale of the discrepancy, rumored to be about $300,000. "The department's license and revenue branch...identified some suspected irregularities in reports from this office here concerning license sales," says Chuck Raysbrook, manager for the South Coast Region. "So...the audit branch did a review, including a physical inventory of license books that were consigned to this office, and they did a reconciliation with financial records. It's still open and, as a matter of policy, irregularities are required to be reported to the Department of Finance and the Bureau of State Audits and that was done in this case." Now, according to Troy Swauger, the Sacramento spokesman for Fish and Game, the DOJ has taken control of the probe. "They are investigating it," Swauger says. "As far as we're concerned, we handed everything over to them." Officials at the DOJ and the Bureau of State Audits declined to discuss the case. -- J.K.
It's not getting much ink in San Diego, but last week's "Inside the Beltway" column of the Washington Times had this spicy local tidbit: "A stork tells Inside the Beltway that Shelia Lawrence, the petite, blond widow of Democratic financier and Clinton supporter M. Larry Lawrence, is expecting her first child. The 30-something Mrs. Lawrence, who met her late husband when she worked as a security guard at a casino at Lake Tahoe in Nevada -- and became his fourth wife in 1990 -- hasn't remarried. She lives at Crown Manor, the family's posh California estate on Coronado Island, just up the street from the famed Del Coronado Hotel and resort her wealthy husband once owned." Lawrence has been sighted regularly with Union-Tribune cartoonist Steve Kelly... A young cancer patient at a Tijuana "alternative therapy" clinic is making headlines across Canada. Thirteen-year-old Tyrell Dueck, whose parents fought a bitter court battle with the province of Saskatchewan over his medical treatment, was finally allowed to travel last week to Tijuana's American Biologics clinic, where, the Calgary Sun reports, treatment costs $6000 a week. Canadian doctors had wanted to amputate the boy's cancerous leg and continue chemotherapy, but his parents wanted to try the Mexican clinic's laetrile treatment. After tests showed that Dueck's bone cancer had spread to his lungs, the government gave up its fight to keep him in Canada -- M.P.
Contributors: James Kelleher, Bill Manson, Matt Potter