October 19, 2008 in Nation/World

Kidnapped child’s grandfather held

Ties to Mexican drug dealers explored by police
By Nicholas Riccardi and Anna Gorman Los Angeles Times
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Cole Puffinburger
(Full-size photo)

LAS VEGAS – The grandfather of a 6-year-old boy who was kidnapped from his home here was held in a Southern California jail Saturday as authorities continued to investigate his relationship with the Mexican drug dealers who allegedly kidnapped his grandson.

Clemons Fred Tinnemeyer, 51, was arrested in Riverside, Calif., by FBI agents late Friday. Las Vegas Metropolitan police said he stole millions of dollars from the drug dealers, leading them to abduct Cole Puffinburger on Wednesday.

Authorities continued to scour northeastern Las Vegas for signs of Cole and released the name and photo of a man they believed was involved in the abduction. They asked the public to contact police if they spot Jesus Gastelum, whose age and residence are unknown, and added they had a third person in custody whom they did not identify but were interviewing about the case.

The brazen kidnapping – three armed Latino men broke into Cole’s home, tied up his mother and her boyfriend and ransacked the house – is a troubling migration of what has become a regular hazard in Mexico. There, drug cartels abduct rivals or innocent bystanders for huge ransoms. In the United States such incidents are far rarer, though authorities in Arizona have been worried about increasing numbers of organized kidnappings of illegal immigrants and their smugglers in Phoenix.

The victims in these cases are often legally compromised. But the image of Cole, a bespectacled, tow-headed boy, has galvanized the community.

Police on Saturday called off the Amber Alert they had issued following Cole’s disappearance, saying it has served its purpose, but urged people to remain vigilant.

Though Cole may be innocent, police said Tinnemeyer was not. They said the former carpenter, who neighbors say moved to Las Vegas from Wisconsin about 15 years ago, was tied to methamphetamine trafficking.

Tinnemeyer was arrested as a material witness in a federal case, according to the FBI. He has not been charged with a crime and is talking with investigators.

Cole’s father, Robert Puffinburger, is divorced from Tinnemeyer’s daughter. In an interview on CNN, he pleaded for the return of his child.

“I just want him home,” Puffinburger said. “Drop him off somewhere, I don’t care. Just let him go.”

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