To Clifford Bibbs, the 16-year-old kid from Alexandria seemed to be a very smooth operator.
One evening about two months ago Bibbs, a 23-year-old janitor, took a stroll from his parents' house near Meridian Hill and struck up a conversation with the kid on Belmont Street NW, just off the 14th Street drug strip. Bibbs was flattered when the kid, who said his name was Craig and seemed much older than his 16 years, split a joint of marijuana with him. "I met a nice guy tonight," Bibbs told his girlfriend later that evening.
In the next several weeks, Craig brought more drugs to Bibbs and to Bibbs' friends, Mack Carr, 18, an unemployed janitor, and Robert (Tony) Gerald, 19, who owns an ice cream truck, according to law enforcement officials and relatives and friends of the three Washington men. Craig brought them PCP or "lovely" almost every day, and it was all for free, the friends said. The three young men were dazzled by their new friend, who seemed to be so street-smart, friends recall.
That chance meeting on Belmont Street was the beginning of an unlikely alliance between people from two very different worlds--struggling young black men from Northwest Washington and middle-aged Central American businessmen--that led to the July 8 abduction in a Miami suburb of Clelia Eleanor Quinonez, the wife of the former Salvadoran ambassador to the United States, according to law enforcement officials.
Serving as a bridge between the two groups, it is alleged, was Craig Blas, a 16 year-old dropout from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria and the youngest of seven children of middle-class Puerto Rican parents.
Law enforcement officials describe the kidnaping as an essentially amateurish operation that was doomed from the start because of the abductors' sloppiness and their basic incompatibility.
In the end, disagreements between the alleged abductors and a massive effort by the FBI led to Quinonez's dramatic rescue on July 14, according to James Vatter, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Washington.
On Friday a federal grand jury in Miami indicted seven persons on kidnaping and conspiracy charges stemming from the case: Bibbs, of 1303 Euclid St. NW; Gerald, of 4913 Illinois Ave. NW; Carr, of 2327 15th St. NW; Jennifer Brown, 27, an unemployed janitor of the same address; Salvador Lacayo Jr., 35, a Salvadoran car salesman who lives in Miami; Juan Jose Caceres, 43, of 5631 Derby Court in Alexandria, an unemployed Guatemalan businessman in the export-import field, and his wife, Dora Ileana Caceres, 32, a clerical employe in the Guatemalan mission to the Organization of American States.
In addition, federal prosecutors in Miami filed kidnaping and conspiracy charges against Blas, of 5479 Sheffield Court in Alexandria, and took the first legal steps toward having him declared an adult for the trial.
None of those charged have yet filed responses to the charges.
Authorities initially believed the kidnaping was committed by leftist terrorists bent on punishing Roberto Quinonez, a wealthy anticommunist who was Salvadoran ambassador here from 1977 to 1979. Law enforcement officials now believe the motive for the kidnaping was money and that the leftist rhetoric used by the kidnapers in phone calls to Quinonez was a ruse.
To relatives and friends of the three Washington men being held on $100,000 bond in the kidnaping, the suggestion that politics had anything to do with their alleged role in the abduction is simply not believable.
"These boys have no education, and they have no idea what Salvador is," said one woman who knows all three of them. Added another friend, "They probably don't even know how to spell Miami, much less find their way there."
FBI officials said Blas was the middleman in recruiting Bibbs, Gerald and Carr for the kidnap scheme and that he did it by promising that each would receive $75,000 from the ransom money. FBI officials said they believed the account of relatives and friends of the three Washington men that Blas initially won their trust by giving them PCP and other drugs.
"His activities in directing the kidnaping warrant his prosecution as an adult," Gerald Houlihan, chief assistant U.S. Attorney in Miami, said of Blas. "His degree of sophistication in this case is well beyond his 16 years. We think he was a crucial player in the conspiracy." Houlihan noted that the kidnaped woman thought during the abduction that Blas was in his late 20s.
But to Flor Blas, Craig's mother, the idea that her son could have been part of a kidnaping is inconceivable. She told a reporter the day after he was arrested that Caceres, a neighbor, must have used "a trick" in getting her son involved in the affair.
Yesterday, she said that several of the kidnapers threatened her son's life if he did not go through with the kidnaping.
Blas is described by acquaintances as close to his parents, with whom he lives in a well-kept town house development on the west side of Alexandria. In March he dropped out of his tenth-grade class at T.C. Williams High School to help his family earn money, according to James E. McClure, the school's guidance director.
McClure described Blas as "15 going on 40 . . . . He was more comfortable with adults than with kids his own age." McClure also said he never knew Blas to be involved with drugs.
Blas' attorney, Avis Buchanan, declined comment about Blas and the charges against him.
Stephen Millstein, Gerald's lawyer, said in U.S. District Court that his client was "more or less a dupe" in the kidnaping. Millstein also said that at some point during the scheme, his client was told that if he did not go through with the kidnaping, family members in Washington would be hurt. "I don't believe he could be a kidnaper, but if he was involved, I believe it would be a result of coercion," Millstein said in an interview.
Willaim Garber, the lawyer for Brown, who was released last week on $10,000 bail, could not be reached for comment.
Richard Hibey, Carr's lawyer, said it is not clear that the youths were aware of what they were getting involved in.
James Lyons, Bibbs' lawyer, called the kidnaping "completely bizarre." He said the three young men from Washington are "just normal youths."
Friends said the three young Washington men are not known for criminal activity. They all work or have worked recently, and all three said in a court hearing after their arrests that they do not have drug problems.
Bibbs' girlfriend, who didn't want to be identified, thinks that Bibbs was sucked into the scheme against his better judgment.
She recalled that about six weeks ago Blas started visiting Bibbs almost every day. Blas sold Bibbs a motorcycle around that time on casual terms, according to Bibbs family friends and the FBI.
At some point, a middle-aged Hispanic man who called himself "Jose" started coming around too, the girlfriend said. "Cliff, what are you doing with this old man?" she remembered asking Bibbs. "He said, 'Girl, you're just paranoid.' "
Bibbs quit his job at a local janitorial company on July 1, telling his supervisor he was taking a trip to Florida, company officials said. When he returned from the trip two weeks ago, Bibbs didn't tell his girlfriend what he'd done there, and said he didn't want to see her anymore, she recalled. "He said he didn't want to bring any problems to my house."
Roberto and Clelia Quinonez moved to the Miami area from El Salvador several years ago to try to avoid the violence there. They return to El Salvador frequently, and have extensive business interests there, including car dealerships, coffee and coconut farms, banks, real estate and a brewery.
In Miami's community of Central American exiles, the couple is known for both its wealth and anti-communist beliefs.
The family's ordeal began on the afternoon of July 8, as Clelia Quinonez, 53, was returning to her Coral Gables home after a day's work at a real-estate brokerage firm. She drove up the driveway of the home, shielded from the street by hedges, and got out of her Mercedes-Benz with her arms full of books. Suddenly, three men appeared.
"They started yelling, 'Take her keys, take her keys,' " she told reporters later.
Screaming, she was punched, kicked and pushed into her car. The men drove her to a wooded area a few blocks from her home, where she was transferred to a station wagon with its back windows spray-painted black. Her hands were bound in front of her with a rope tied around her neck and bandages placed around her face. The kidnapers then made their way to I-95 and headed north.
At about 4:55 p.m., five minutes after the abduction, Roberto Quinonez received a telephone call at the office of his export company in South Miami. The caller, alleged to be Juan Jose Caceres by the FBI in affidavits filed in U.S. District Court, said, "We have your wife," and demanded a ransom of $1.5 million in small bills.
The caller described the money as a "war tax," a term used in El Salvador for ransom paid in politically motivated kidnapings.
The caller told Quinonez the money should be taken to El Salvador by Quinonez's cousin. When Quinonez said he did not have that much money, the caller said, "But you have a rich uncle and rich family. And besides, that is your problem."
The caller warned Quinonez not to contact the police and directed him to the spot where his wife's car had been left. Quinonez hurried to the location, found the car and realized then the call was not a hoax.
Quinonez called the FBI. Agents placed taps on all of Quinonez's phones and were able to listen to all the subsequent calls from the kidnapers.
After driving all night with stops only for gasoline, the kidnapers pulled up to an apartment building at 2327 15th St. NW on the morning of July 9, according to the FBI. The kidnapers took Quinonez from the car and led her to a back bedroom of Carr's apartment, where she was kept for the rest of her ordeal, the FBI said.
Over the next several days, the caller phoned Quinonez about 20 times to demand the $1.5 million.
On the advice of the FBI, Roberto Quinonez told the caller that he wanted test questions to be transmitted to his wife to insure that she was still alive. The test questions were also to be a means of secret communication between husband and wife, because they had agreed on a code to be used in the event of a kidnaping.
During the 1970s, Roberto Quinonez's father-in-law, brother-in-law and another relative were kidnaped by Salvadoran guerrillas. In each case, the family paid more than $500,000 ransom to win the relative's freedom.
Quinonez told the caller to ask his wife a test question about "Pancho," the family dog, and how the dog had been transported recently for medical treatment. The caller transmitted back to Quinonez his wife's oblique answer: "The gentleman left on vacation to Mexico by plane." By prearrangement, the couple had agreed "vacation" was to refer to a kidnaping, and was to precede the victim's location.
She had either forgotten the code or thought she was being held in Mexico. But her mistake didn't set back the FBI agents trying to find her.
Tracing one of the calls to the Quinonez's home, the FBI discovered the caller was speaking from a Miami phone booth, and quickly dispatched agents to the booth. The agents saw a man leave the booth in a car. Noting the car's license plates, the agents traced the car to a Miami car rental firm, and discovered that the car had been rented by a Juan Jose Caceres, who had given his home address in Alexandria, according to court documents.
The FBI assigned a round-the-clock tail on Caceres, and placed taps on phones from which he called.
The key phone call monitored by the FBI came a few days after the kidnaping, when Caceres called a pay phone outside a motel at 1451 Belmont St. NW, around the corner from the apartment building on 15th Street. Caceres called the pay phone repeatedly in the next few days, leading the FBI to believe that Quinonez was being held somewhere in Washington.
About 40 agents in casual clothes were assigned to the neighborhood around Belmont Street, in 12-hour shifts. Some agents rented apartments to watch the area, and others drove by in cars or sat in parked vans. One woman agent lost 10 pounds inside a closed van during her sweltering 12-hour shift.
When agents noticed that several people receiving calls on the Belmont Street pay phone returned after each call to the apartment building on 15th Street, they knew where Quinonez was being held.
Guarding Quinonez in the apartment, which had no telephone, were Blas, Bibbs, Gerald and Jennifer Brown, who shared the apartment with Carr, FBI officials said. Brown had not been involved in the abduction and had been on vacation when Quinonez was first brought to the apartment, according to FBI affidavits. When she returned to the apartment, Carr told her about the kidnaping, and she spent the rest of the week helping to take care of Quinonez, the FBI said.
FBI agents listening to phone calls betweenWashington and Miami detected some tension between Caceres and the young people holding Quinonez, FBI officials said. The young people were angry that ransom negotiations seemed to be dragging, according to court documents and FBI officials. The tension disturbed FBI officials because dissension among kidnapers often prompts rash acts, and they began planning a raid on the apartment.
On July 11, according to court documents, Caceres called his wife, Dora, at their Alexandria home. She said, "They are not going to control that thing, understand me?" He said it looked like he didn't have the "stomach" for it. She told him, "Don't worry."
When Caceres called Blas at the Belmont street phone on July 12, Blas told him, "We did our job and we are expecting you to do yours." Caceres responded that he "was doing his job," but that Blas must be patient because they have been "waiting for this for two years."
Caceres called Blas again the next day. "Blas told Caceres that he was only going to hold on to this until Sunday, and then he would 'yo tiro,' which translates literally from Spanish as 'I shoot,' " according to FBI affidavits.
Blas and the others in Washington were demanding that they and not Caceres negotiate with Roberto Quinonez, FBI officials said. Caceres called the former Salvadoran diplomat on July 12 and told him that a "Commander Jose," not Caceres, would be calling him.
The kidnapers in Washington called Roberto Quinonez on July 14, and Quinonez, on the advice of FBI agents, insisted on speaking to his wife before he would pay the ransom.
A few hours later, at 10 p.m., Lenny Frieson, an FBI agent driving an unmarked car on 15th Street, spotted two young men escorting a middle-aged woman out of the apartment building and around the corner to Belmont Street.
"That's her," Frieson whispered into a radio transmitter to Vatter, the FBI offical in charge of the operation, who was at the agency's field office at Buzzard Point. After a few seconds discussion, Vatter ordered Frieson and the other agents in the area to close in.
Frieson stopped the car on Belmont Street, and as Blas dialed the phone to Miami, Frieson and his partner jumped out and yelled to Blas and the others at the pay phone that they needed help with a stalled car. After diverting their attention, Frieson pulled out a gun, yelled, "Freeze, FBI," and ran over to the phone, stepping in front of the shaken victim. Guns drawn, agents placed Blas and Gerald under arrest. Agents found a .22 caliber pistol on Blas.
The phone receiver left dangling, Roberto Quinonez heard the whole thing from Miami.
"I was flabbergasted," his wife told reporters. "It was like in TV. I don't watch too much TV, but I remember Eliot Ness."
Juan Jose and Dora Caceres, Lacayo, Carr, Bibbs and Brown were arrested in the next 24 hours.
Dora Caceres' attorney, Richard Bromberg, says she had no role in the kidnaping, and that the statements she made in the telephone conversations, quoted in FBI affidavits, "do not show any knowledge on her part that there was a kidnaping scheme going on."
It was not possible to learn whether Juan Jose Caceres has an attorney. Another lawyer working on the case said he expects Caceres will request court-appointed counsel.
Ellis Rubin, Lacayo's lawyer, said his client "knows nothing" about the kidnaping.