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In any case, Sergio looked at the security video, studied the pale-skinned man with the pointed hairline, and told Eddy he’d once given that man a ride in La Jolla. The man in the video was the Tijuana boyfriend of someone Sergio knew, and his real name was Juan, not Robert.

So Eddy decided to look for the man in Tijuana. He took the photographs he’d made from the surveillance video across the border to his restaurant, Mariscos del Pacífico, and asked his staff if they’d ever seen this guy Juan. Eddy told the manager to call him if the man in the video showed up.

Eddy also took the step of calling his lawyer to ask that he get a private investigator to find out who, exactly, Juan was and where he lived.

After that, Eddy and Juan spoke by telephone one more time. This time, Eddy told Juan that he knew his real name and did not intend to pay him anything.

Juan promptly lowered his informant fee to $6000.

Eddy still wanted to know if the kidnapping threat was serious, so he suggested that Juan meet him at Mariscos del Pacífico, but Juan refused, saying he didn’t have papers and therefore couldn’t go to Mexico, but he could meet Eddy at a shopping mall in the U.S.

Eddy didn’t agree. They decided to talk again by telephone, but Eddy never spoke to Juan again. The exchange did, however, initiate a crucial conversation between Eddy and his wife Ivette.

“I told her if I ever were kidnapped, go to FBI,” Eddy said.

∗ ∗ ∗

At about this time, two things happened. A For Rent sign went up in front of a plain brown house in a tight cul-de-sac at 1539 Point Dume Court in Chula Vista. Fifteen-year-old Derek and his friend Freddy watched from their garages as the house that had been occupied by a family with a teenaged daughter was visited first by prospective renters and then by the new tenants, who were not a family but a pair of guys. They were Hispanic, in their 20s or early 30s, Derek guessed, and they spent an awful lot of time driving to and from the house. One guy in particular would drive to the house, carry in some grocery or duffel bags, then get back in his red MR2 and drive away. A couple of hours later, he’d be back and do the same thing. A lot of cars, in fact, rolled in and out of Point Dume now: a black 2008 Escalade with newly purchased rims (not stock, Derek noticed), a silver Ranger, a gray Corolla, the red MR2, and a black Lincoln truck.

Meanwhile, an old friend of Eddy’s got in touch to apologize. Three years earlier, Eddy Tostado and his friend David Valencia had sometimes gone out to clubs with Monroy, the architect, and their respective wives and girlfriends, but then one night the women were dancing for Eddy, David, and the architect, and David started punching and kicking his girlfriend. Eddy tried to stop David, so David grabbed a bottle of whiskey and hit Eddy on the head with it.

Eddy nearly passed out, blood gushing from an inch-long cut. The architect tried to calm David down, as Eddy remembered it, but security took David out, and Eddy went to his father-in-law’s clinic to have the gash on his head swabbed and sealed with butterfly bandages.

That was the last time Eddy saw David Valencia until May of 2007, when Juan showed up on Eddy’s front step with his kidnapping story and David Valencia started telling Eddy’s car detailer (who came to Eddy’s house every Friday) how sorry he was about hitting Eddy with that whiskey bottle and how much he wanted to talk to Eddy and make it right. The car detailer even tried to use his own phone to call David so that apologies could be made and friendship restored. They didn’t reconcile, though, until Eddy heard that his former friend David had been in the hospital. Okay, Eddy decided, and he called.

David and Eddy met at a coffee shop, where David said he was sober now, living in the U.S. with his wife and family. David’s son was playing soccer, his daughter was riding horses — he was doing family things now — and maybe Eddy’s daughter would like to come ride horses sometime. By the time Eddy and David parted that day, Eddy had promised to buy some cars for David at an upcoming auction, just like he used to do.

∗ ∗ ∗

On Thursday, June 7, Eddy Tostado and David Valencia went to a car auction. David picked out a car and a pickup truck and left. Eddy, because he was the one with the dealer’s license, bid on the cars David wanted, among others, and at around 7:00 that evening met David in a Starbucks in Chula Vista. David was waiting on the patio outside, which was really just two green umbrellas on the sidewalk, hemmed in by the bug-spattered bumpers of trucks. Southwestern College sits across the street, so students flow in and out all day, buying lattes and frappés.

Eddy and David chatted about when and where the cars would be ready, and Eddy had pushed his chair back to go when David said, “Wait, let me buy you a coffee.”

Eddy said he didn’t want any coffee. It was too late at night, he said, and coffee would keep him awake, but David insisted, so Eddy relented, and as he sat there on the strip mall sidewalk, the temperature, which had been 63 degrees, dropped ever so slightly, and the cloudy sky pinkened, as it does even in the gloomiest month of the San Diego year, and another person who was not who she said she was walked into the picture.

“Nancy,” David called her. She was young and thin and pretty and Latina, like lots of girls who go in and out of that Starbucks, but she dressed expensively, decked out in Louis Vuitton. She was about five feet six and very fit, Eddy noticed, as if she worked out. She had short hair and what Eddy called a “little nose.”

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MURPHYJUNK April 7, 2010 @ 12:29 p.m.

time to bring back the death penalty for kidnapping


Visduh April 10, 2010 @ 7 p.m.

Gee, Reader. You put this heavy-duty story on your cover, and there's one comment so far? This story should have evoked dozens of comments. Does anybody care?


David Dodd April 12, 2010 @ 12:36 p.m.

Honestly Visduh, if I don't like a cover story I usually just keep quiet unless there is good topic for debate or other such tasty entertainment in the comments section. Laura McNeal's stories (not just this one) distract me because she dates and puts a timestamp on everything, it jerks her story around to the point where I have to force myself to read it if I want to finish it. That's just me, maybe everyone else is okay with that method, but I think it wrecks the flow and forces the pace.

As for the content, I was also put off by the way the author minimized El Mandilón's ties to the Arellano Cartel, as though there is some chance he wasn't connected. I bet there isn't anyone in Tijuana that believes otherwise, and I have the feeling that the FBI knows better as well. Most of these kidnappings are not based solely on the wealth of the victims, but on a wealthy victim that has a reason to not want the police involved. Luckily for El Mandilón, his wife took a chance and called the authorities, and the kidnappers were pretty stupid and careless.

And no matter what or how they testified, I do not buy into the fact that Eddy told his wife to contact the FBI should anything happen to him. In fact, it would not surprise me that he told her the opposite and she was too scared to comply after he was kidnapped.

Anyway, that's why I didn't comment initially.


SDaniels April 12, 2010 @ 12:51 p.m.

I care, but am not knowledgeable on the topic of kidnappings in Mexico. So I await further commentary from those qualified to weigh in. Visduh, did you have a comment then, or are you in my position?


littleitalygirl April 12, 2010 @ 1:33 p.m.

Seriously, You have to Use " Little Italy" on your cover story? All this crime did not occur in "Little Italy" Why would you even put this on the cover. Your offices are in Little Italy. Whats the deal?


David Dodd April 12, 2010 @ 1:35 p.m.

One more note: I do admire the author's attempt to portray what might be noted as the anatomy of a kidnapping. But this is a really tough thing to pull off when the victim is neck deep in illegal activity himself. Part of the problem is with how Mexican businessmen generally find success. Generally, or perhaps, in a way that is considered almost tolerable here. Not necessarily that ties to a drug cartel is some sort of a ladder to success, but that business in general is not transparent here - there are plenty of questionable investments and alliances going on behind the curtain, so to speak.

However, people do sometimes discover such "abnormalities", much in the same way that the kidnappers discovered who El Mandilón was and that he had plenty to hide from the authorities. It's problematic to write about, in the U.S. because there's a big metal fence in the way of getting at the facts; and especially in Mexico because journalists literally risk their lives in order to attempt to get the necessary proof to substantiate such a story.

And to McNeal, if she reads the comments, you get an A for effort because this was a difficult subject to tackle and it's obvious you did a lot of research. The execution gets a D, and some of that isn't your fault unless you knew who Eddy was before the kidnapping (I don't expect that you did), but my constructive criticism remains - there's no need to date and timestamp your piece until you've pulled me into it. Go back and check your last three stories here, you'll see a trend.


dwingo April 13, 2010 @ 9:38 a.m.

I agree with "littleitalygirl". The Little Italy references at the beginning were not needed, and even misleading. That said, I found the story impossible to put down.

I know that there is a finite amount of space in the Reader for such an article (which may be why another poster felt the cartel ties were "minimized"), but I found myself wanting to know more.

A great read, Laura McNeal! I'd buy the book!


Visduh April 13, 2010 @ 9:25 p.m.

Refried, you confirmed something I'd believed for years. Success in the business world in Mexico has more to do with connections than delivering a product or service that people want. I'd always figured it had to do with one's ties to the PRI, but when PAN got the upper hand there was little evidence that things had changed.

The Mexican business success story has engaged in alliances that are barely tolerable. It is hard for me to imagine a system that is corrupt ever really taking off and spawning real prosperity. BTW, I have never assumed that Mexico was inherently poor, as many others in San Diego have believed. It is the culture of connections and the attendant corruption that keep it poor. And sadly, if San Diego cannot move out of its corrupt political morass, it too will slip into greater poverty and stagnation. We already are seeing that happening on the local political front.

No, SD, I don't know anything about kidnappings in Mexico either. My comment aimed more at the editorial staff that runs lurid cover story headlines for stories that few seem to read, and nearly nobody comments. But with the Tijuana tourist trade diminished almost to the vanishing point due to fear of kidnapping and other kinds of abuse, I'd just think that a few more folks--beyond us members of the hard core--would have a few words to add.


David Dodd April 13, 2010 @ 9:58 p.m.

Very astute, Visduh. My wife is a hard core PANista, and I remind her often that all of those PAN members once belonged to PRI - new boss just like the old boss. The thing I like about Mexico, and it's sort of difficult for a lot of people to wrap their heads around, is that the corruption is obvious, even though business here is everything but transparent. In the U.S., there is a lot of shock and awe whenever corruption rears its ugly head, but here everyone seems to know what's happening even when they can't quite put their finger on any details.

One can, however, make good money here honestly, but the culture is so laid back it's tough to get up the motivation I suppose. For example, up the hill where I used to live there was a guy (with his family) that used to run a taco cart in the mornings, the best beef birria I've ever had. The cart was always packed and he usually sold out in about four hours. His family and him seemed normal in every way, shabby clothes and everything. Turns out the guy made great money (deservedly so), owned four cars (new) and a huge house, and now he's retired. Good for him! (Bad for us, because no one makes birria like that guy did).


jmmymac April 16, 2010 @ 2:24 p.m.

Riveting story! Kudos to Laura. I like the way she has the reader "read between the lines" regarding Eddy, aka El Mandolin and his probable Cartel ties. Arizona now leads the nation with these kidnappings. I just wonder when decapitated corpses start showing up all over SAn Diego like they do in TJ... soon I bet.


tonyb June 13, 2010 @ 10:01 a.m.

pretty nice how you glorify a known member of the afo (arrelano felix organization) in fact it is known eddy is putting the finger on the members of the afo to collect reward monies. biting the same hand that fed him. eddy is a killer, remember the helicopter crash in the baja 1000? and when the afo exumed the body in ensenada? it was eddy whom was racing under an alias, and it was eddy who ordered the body be taken from the hospital. Since when does the reader glorify killers and known drug dealers? too bad his kidnappers didn't finish the job, one less scum bag around dealing cocaine, crystal, and god only knows what else. once the cartel finds out he is the one turning them in, he will get his.


monaghan July 11, 2011 @ 5:18 p.m.

I missed this story the first time around, but in light of Matt Potter's San Diego-Rhode Island drug-running report in July, I now have read every word. My personal take-home message from all this is: never wear a (malfunctioning) wire for the WTF Bureau of Investigation.


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