FBI: $1.5 Million Plot Nearly Perfect
NAPLES, Fla. (AP) _ A 9-year-old girl who did homework during 28 hours of captivity in a box helped unravel an elaborate kidnap plot that the FBI said fell apart at the final detail: the pickup of the $1.5 million ransom.
Four men were arrested - one at his wedding - in connection with the kidnapping of Amanda Mueller, whose great-great grandfather founded the C.F. Mueller Co. noodle business, authorities said.
The plot, involving one of the largest ransoms ever sought in the United States, was planned as revenge for a failed real estate deal involving Amanda’s father that cost one of the men a lot of money, said FBI agent William Wells.
″We believe they had a breakdown in their communications,″ said Wells. ″They were confused as to where they were exactly supposed to be. ... I’d say they knew what they were doing, they were very detailed, up to the miscue.″
Amanda was kept in a refrigerator box left in woods east of Naples in the 28 hours before she was found unharmed Saturday, the FBI said. The box was painted black and had an air hole.
She was left with sandwiches, sodas, a pillow and a blanket. She insisted on taking along schoolbooks, and told authorities she worked on her homework.
The four men arrested Saturday, four days after Amanda was kidnapped, were booked for investigation of state kidnapping charges and on a federal charge of extortion, authorities said Sunday.
Peter Farrell, 37, of Naples, and his brother Paul, 22, a second-class seaman stationed aboard the USS Saratoga near Jacksonville, appeared today before U.S. Magistrate Harvey Schlesinger in Jacksonville.
The Farrells were being held in Jacksonville while the magistrate decides if bond will be set, and will be formally charged in Miami.
FBI agent Howard E. Glavin testified that Amanda had identified the Farrells from photographs. He said she told authorities that Peter Farrell was the one who picked her up at her school, and that Paul stayed with her in an apartment for three days and later placed her in the box.
Glavin also said Amanda had identified the apartment where she was kept and said she had written her name on the walls. He said Paul Farrell’s father gave him the key to the apartment for use on his honeymoon.
The younger Farrell was arrested at his wedding Saturday night.
Richard Sais, 29, of Bonita Springs, and Edward O’Brien, 38, of Naples, were being held in lieu of $750,000 bonds and faced appearances this afternoon before a federal magistrate in Miami.
Peter Farrell, a real estate developer, blamed Amanda’s father, John Mueller, for a failed real estate deal last spring, Wells said. He declined to be specific about the amount Farrell said he lost.
Mueller owns Mueller Co. Realtors in Naples with his wife, Barbara.
Amanda was abducted Tuesday after someone identifying himself as her father called her school and said he was sending a security guard to pick her up for a dentist appointment, Wells said.
The girl was released to Peter Farrell while another kidnapper disguised as a telephone repairman watched from the road, the FBI said.
Within minutes, Mueller received a call telling him to go to the men’s room at a bank in Naples for a note.
When he arrived, he found a note demanding $1.5 million.
Friday afternoon, Mueller received a tape-recorded phone call. It instructed him to put the money into two pieces of luggage and proceed north on Interstate 75, where he encountered several drop points with instructions that took him to the Southwest Florida Regional Airport in Fort Myers.
Mueller left the luggage at the airport, but it was never claimed.
Authorities acting on a tip from an acquaintance of Peter Farrell found Amanda on Saturday morning.
Wells said Amanda was put in the box Friday morning, after being held in a Naples apartment rented by Peter Farrell.
″Amanda, while being held in the apartment, was at times locked in a bathroom, at times bound, and at other times was possibly given a tranquilizer. She assisted us greatly by going through the scenario, helping us identify certain pieces of evidence,″ Wells said.
News of the abduction was not released until Amanda was found because the kidnappers had threatened to kill her if reports were published, authorities said.
John Mueller’s great-grandfather, C. Frederick Mueller, founded the C.F. Mueller Co. pasta business in Jersey City, N.J., in 1868. John Mueller’s father, C. Frederick Mueller III, moved to Naples about 12 years ago after selling the company to the Foremost Corp. of America for $115 million.