2 face racketeering charges in Nev. abduction

Published 2:11 pm Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The grandfather of a 6-year-old Nevada boy who was abducted last month was accused Monday of squirreling away millions of dollars skimmed from a U.S.-Mexico drug smuggling operation using a hidden compartment in a recreational vehicle.

Clemens Fred Tinnemeyer, 51, and his girlfriend, Terri Lynn Leavy, 42, were charged with interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises — a felony that prosecutors said is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The two were being investigated by federal drug enforcement agents when the boy, Cole Puffinburger, was abducted Oct. 15, according to a criminal complaint unsealed during their appearance Monday in federal court.

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Police had said two gunmen who posed as police officers tied up the boy’s mother and her boyfriend, ransacked their Las Vegas home and took the boy when they couldn’t find money Tinnemeyer allegedly stole from Mexican drug traffickers.

The boy became the focus of Nevada’s longest Amber Alert and an intense search in neighboring states before he was found unharmed late Oct. 18 on a Las Vegas street.

Tinnemeyer was arrested Oct. 17 as a material witness in the kidnapping by federal agents in Riverside, Calif., who found some $3.5 million in cash bundled in suitcases, footlockers and a handbag in a storage locker in nearby Menifee, according to the criminal complaint.

Leavy, who allegedly used the name Terri Mooney, was arrested as a material witness two days later.

Neither was asked to enter a plea Monday, although their court-appointed lawyers said after the hearing they intend to fight the federal racketeering charges.

Federal Magistrate Judge Robert Johnston deemed Tinnemeyer and Leavy flight risks and a danger to the community and ordered them held in federal custody without bond pending a preliminary hearing Nov. 17.

The criminal complaint states that Tinnemeyer and Leavy drew the attention of a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in July, after an informant in Mississippi noticed they were sending large packages of cash by FedEx to addresses in Las Vegas and Reno.

Another informant told agents that Tinnemeyer may have helped steal up to $50 million in drug money using hidden compartments custom-built into RVs by Leavy’s ex-husband.

Records show that Tinnemeyer’s RV crossed from Mexico into the U.S. four times from October 2007 to April 2008.

The complaint said Tinnemeyer and Leavy also were arrested on charges of methamphetamine and marijuana possession in Utah on April 7, 2008, after they were stopped on Interstate 15 in the RV. Those charges are pending.

The couple were not charged in the kidnapping, although Bliss blamed Tinnemeyer’s alleged drug-running and his attempts to hide from the Mexican drug dealers, for “a crime of violence committed upon a child.”

Las Vegas police had characterized the abduction as a message from “Mexican nationals” and methamphetamine traffickers to Tinnemeyer for allegedly stealing millions of dollars in drug money.

The complaint against Tinnemeyer and Leavy identifies Jose Lopez-Buelna, 48, as one of the men from whom they allegedly stole $300,000 to $400,000 in drug money. He was turned over to the custody of immigration officials last week following his Oct. 17 arrest in Las Vegas on suspicion of a felony weapon charge.

Police have identified Lopez-Buelna as an illegal immigrant who was convicted in 1997 in San Bernardino, Calif., of transporting controlled substances. He was deported to Mexico in 2003.