Mexican customs officers in Naco, Sonora, watched a man emerge from the trunk of a white sedan with his mouth taped shut and his hands and feet in shackles.
The man approached the customs officers and asked for help.
Meanwhile, the driver of the sedan, Roxanne Marie Carpenter, 54, was unaware her captive had escaped. She drove to a plaza a few hundred yards south of the international border where she planned to collect a bounty of 30 pounds of marijuana from two drug cartel members for turning the man over to them, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
When the cartel members discovered the captive was no longer in the trunk on the morning of March 29, they took the car and told Carpenter to run. She was arrested by FBI agents hours later as she walked across the international border into Naco, Arizona.
Federal prosecutors said Carpenter and three Sierra Vista men conspired to kidnap the victim and turn him over to the cartel after they heard about the bounty, which was issued after the captive reportedly stole a marijuana load in Cochise County.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson sentenced Carpenter to 14 years in federal prison for what Jorgenson called a “shocking, depraved series of activities” that were “fueled by a lifestyle of substance abuse.”
Federal prosecutors said Carpenter, also known as “Rocky,” was the mastermind of the plan and recruited her friends to kidnap the victim, who went by “Ghost.”
Fausto “Zombie” Velazquez, 23, negotiated the bounty price with the cartel, prosecutors said. Brian Meyers, a 40-year-old friend of the victim, was the “lure” to get the victim to enter the car. Phoelix “Loki” Begay, 29, was the “muscle.”
In an interview with FBI agents included in court documents, Carpenter quoted Begay as saying: “You know, if we could get our hands on Ghost, and we turned him, that’s $37,000, Rocky. You could buy this property, not have a problem with it. You know, everything would be cool.”
Carpenter recounted to agents that Begay told her: “Rocky, we need to get some money. Living like this is ridiculous.”
Before deciding to kidnap the victim, Carpenter wanted to confirm there was a bounty, saying: “We’re not going to do this and there’s not going to be any money.”
Carpenter then spoke with Velazquez, who confirmed the bounty.
“So I asked Zombie. I yelled from the carport. I said, ‘Hey Zombie. Can you get a hold of your family and find out if there’s still money on — on Ghost’s head?’ And he said, ‘all right. Let me make a phone call.’”
They negotiated with the cartel for the bounty, which started at $37,000 but quickly diminished to an offer of a truck. The kidnappers rejected the truck offer because they would not be able to split it among themselves. In the end, the parties agreed to 30 pounds of marijuana.
Hours before Carpenter drove across the border, Meyers drove the victim and Begay to a remote area near Bisbee, prosecutors said. Sitting in the back seat, Begay shocked the victim in the neck with a cattle prod and used the seat belt to choke him. After the victim blacked out, they cut him out of the seat belt and he fell out of the car.
When the victim started to resist again they kicked and punched him until they could shackle his feet, handcuff his wrists, and put duct tape over his mouth and around his legs and arms. They then put him in the trunk. Begay shocked the victim repeatedly and kept him on a dog leash to quiet him.
They went to the house of Carpenter’s friend and smoked meth, laughed, joked, and listened to music while Velazquez negotiated the bounty with the cartel. During that time, the victim was confined to the trunk with a pillowcase over his head, federal prosecutor Serra Tsethlikai told Jorgenson on Tuesday.
They drove to a Safeway in Bisbee, where they bought more duct tape and Velazquez called the cartel to arrange the delivery of the victim, according to court documents. Carpenter then drove the victim from Bisbee to Naco, but got lost.
She met the other conspirators at the Gay 90s Bar in Naco and Velazquez drove in front of Carpenter to guide her to the port of entry in Naco, while the victim pleaded for his life from inside the trunk.
All four were indicted in federal court on conspiracy to kidnap and kidnapping charges.
A jury found Carpenter and Velazquez guilty of the charges in August. Velazquez is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 11.
Meyers pleaded guilty July 20 to one count of conspiracy to kidnap. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 27.
Begay pleaded guilty to the charges July 25. He was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison.
On Tuesday, defense lawyer Jill Thorpe told Jorgenson that Begay served seven years in the Army, including 18 months in Afghanistan where he was awarded several medals. After returning to civilian life, he struggled with drug abuse and committed domestic violence.
Begay agreed to participate in the kidnapping because he was worried the cartel would hurt Carpenter, Thorpe said. Tsethlikai questioned why Begay was involved in negotiating the bounty if he had no interest in the money.
Defense lawyer Jonathan Young said the kidnapping victim was related to a cartel member and was never in any real danger from the cartel. In a sentencing memorandum, he urged Jorgenson to disregard statements made by his client and the other kidnappers as the “hyperbolic ramblings of some overwrought methamphetamine enthusiasts.”
Young said Carpenter became involved in the criminal activity when the kidnapping victim stashed part of the stolen drug load at her house over her objections. She felt threatened and wanted to resolve the situation by turning over the kidnapping victim to the cartel.
“I’m very sorry for being involved in this. I didn’t realize it would get so bad,” Carpenter told Jorgenson, adding “I didn’t want to end up in a trunk myself.”
The only reason she was the one who drove into Mexico was because the other three conspirators were under court-mandated supervision, Young said, which would raise flags when crossing back into the United States.
Contact Curt Prendergast at email@example.com or 573-4224. On Twitter @CurtTucsonStar.