Man Faces Racketeering Charges In Nevada Abduction Case

By: By KEN RITTER, AP
By: By KEN RITTER, AP

LAS VEGAS (AP) - The grandfather of a 6-year-old Nevada boy who was abducted for four days 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 initial appearance Monday in U.S. District Court.

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, Calif., according to the criminal complaint.

Police in Las Vegas also seized $60,920 from a credit union safe deposit box belonging to the boy's mother, Julie Puffinburger.

Leavy, who also allegedly used the name Terri Mooney, was arrested Oct. 19 in Fontana, Calif. The two were held as material witnesses before being brought to Las Vegas in the custody of U.S. Marshals, authorities said.

Neither was asked Monday to enter a plea, although their court-appointed lawyers, Karen Winckler for Tinnemeyer and Michael Pandullo for Leavy, said outside court they intended 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 judge postponed Monday's hearing for two hours while court officials redacted names and addresses of informants and witnesses
from the 19-page criminal complaint. Johnston also ordered the original material witness warrants against the two to remain sealed.

The redacted document showed that Tinnemeyer and Leavy drew the attention of a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in July, after an informant in Waveland, Miss., 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 RV's 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 - at crossings in Calexico, Calif., Nogales, Ariz., Antelope Wells, N.M., and San Luis, Ariz.

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 by Iron County sheriff's deputies. Those charges are pending.

Federal prosecutor Kathleen Bliss told the judge Monday that the Utah sheriff's deputies didn't find "a large amount of drugs" hidden in the secret compartment that she described as lead-lined and "indiscernible" to inspectors, dogs and X-rays.

Tinnemeyer and Leavy were not charged in the kidnapping, although Bliss blamed Tinnemeyer's alleged drug-running and money-handling, along with his attempts to hide from the Mexican drug dealers, for "a crime of violence committed upon a child."

"His grandson was kidnapped," the prosecutor said.

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.

Tinnemeyer and Leavy are two of four "persons of interest" named by police in the case.

Another, Jose Lopez-Buelna, 48, was turned over to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials last week following his Oct. 17 arrest in Las Vegas on suspicion of a felony weapon charge.

The complaint against Tinnemeyer and Leavy identifies Lopez-Buelna, who also used the name Jose Lopez, as one of the men from whom they allegedly stole $300,000 to $400,000 in drug money.

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

Police have said they were looking for Jesus Gastelum, 35, a Mexican citizen who also used the name Ferdinand Gastelum.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-11-03-08 2310EST


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