By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
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Inside the west Phoenix house where they took him, the kidnappers tied Andrade to a chair in a bloody closet, which had apparently been used to torture previous victims. He could hear screams as kidnappers unleashed horrific attacks on hostages locked up in other rooms. Like them, Andrade endured ferocious assaults. While his girlfriend listened on the phone at one point, they burned his back with cigarettes and a blowtorch. They stabbed his hand, cut his ears and fingers with scissors, attempted to rip his eye out of its socket, and split open his eyebrow.
Then they ordered him to bend over.
The attackers rained blows on him when he refused and forced his legs apart. Andrade's blood-curdling screams elicited no mercy from the men as they rammed him with a broomstick, a pair of scissors, and a thick wooden dowel, shredding his colon. Andrade endured four days of such torture before police were able to track down the kidnappers and rescue him.
Andrade recovered and was allowed to stay in the United States to testify against one of his tormentors, now serving a 54-year prison sentence in Arizona.
Though the Phoenix area isn't like Mexico—where crime syndicates make fortunes kidnapping random powerful and rich people (or, sometimes, their children) and extorting their families—innocent victims have been kidnapped locally.
An illegal immigrant, who had lived in Phoenix for about 10 years, had just stepped off a bus. It was a hot August day last year, and he was walking to his home nearby. A van pulled up beside him, and men with guns jumped out and forced him inside the vehicle. They sped away to a drop house a few miles away. The man was locked up for four days before his family was able to scrounge together the $2,800 ransom. Once they paid it, he was freed.
The man went to the police and led IIMPACT detectives to the house where he had been held. Police later learned that the victim was grabbed off the street because one of 11 undocumented immigrants whom the kidnappers were holding hostage had escaped: They had to replace the escapee or pay their boss the ransom out of their own pockets.
Cops arrested two suspects and rescued 10 pollos. They turned over the hostages—including the random kidnapping victim who had led them to the drop house—to federal immigration agents.
On May 5, at about 3 a.m., four men with handguns stormed a home in the west Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale, where U.S. citizens Estephany Sauceda, her infant child, and her mentally challenged 22-year-old sister, Karley, were sleeping. The men demanded drugs and money, saying they were looking for "the man with the white car." Sauceda told them that they didn't have any drugs or cash. Investigators believe that the men were looking to collect on a drug debt, possibly for 1,300 pounds of marijuana that had been stolen from them. Sauceda's boyfriend had ties to the suspected thieves, but he had been in jail for more than a month on unrelated charges.
The intruders didn't care. One way or another, they would recover their losses. The gunmen decided to kidnap Sauceda, but she told them she had to take care of her baby. So they took Karley, who had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. The kidnappers held Karley hostage in a South Phoenix house, demanding $50,000 from her family.
The captors assaulted the girl and threatened to cut off her fingers if the money wasn't paid. After nine days, HIKE detectives found the dwelling, and on May 19, a SWAT team burst in and freed Karley.
When investigators encounter a case in which the victim has no discernible connection to smuggling—like the one involving Karley Sauceda—they're particularly concerned.
"A young Latino is kidnapped, and at first, you think, there must be some connection, but there isn't. [He or she's] a U.S. citizen," Burgett says. "When I get cases like these, man, I think there are so many [kidnapping cases that] what's happening in Mexico is starting to happen here."
Despite the potential for violence, immigrants searching for a better existence are lured by coyotes because the risk they face with them isn't as great as the risk of attempting to traverse the treacherous Sonoran Desert alone.
Federal immigration policies in the mid-1990s forced the stream of immigrants heading north into the United States to shift their routes to the Arizona desert when the feds fortified the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso with Operation Hold the Line and in San Diego with Operation Gatekeeper.
"[The feds] were intentionally driving people to Arizona and hoped that they would be deterred by the terrain," wrote Jeffrey Kaye, author of Moving Millions, How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration.
The increased number of immigrants coming into the state naturally created a burgeoning market for coyotes. As time passed, smuggling operations became more sophisticated and prices for passage went up.
Cartels that were already moving drugs and weapons across the border expanded their trade to include humans. They charged human smugglers "taxes" to use their routes across the border. Or they contracted with human-smuggling rings to move loads of pollos collected from border towns.