When North Bergen Police were contacted by the parents of a 16-year-old North Bergen girl on Monday, saying they’d received phone calls demanding $50,000 cash or “something bad” would happen to their daughter, they were immediately suspicious.
Lt. Frank Cannella, commander of the Detective Bureau, said that the alleged kidnapping victim was “known” to the Police Department from previous incidents. The kidnapping also seemed unlikely, since the female’s parents were not financially able to procure such a large amount of money.
Cannella said that the police contacted the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit and several other agencies and was soon able to determine the location from which the extortion calls were originating.
“We don’t know why these kids did it.” – Frank Cannella
“The 16-year-old female was startled while she was taken into custody,” said Cannella. “She responded, ‘How did you find me?’ ”
After she and the other individual were transported to the Prosecutor’s Office, they cooperated fully, Cannella said.
Other alleged co-conspirators also came to light, said Cannella. They included a 17-year-old female and a 17-year-old male from North Bergen, a 15-year-old female and 17-year-old female from West New York, and a 27-year-old male, Hugo Ariel Meuli of North Bergen.
On Jan. 5, after the two females were taken into custody, the alleged kidnap victim told police that one of the other teenagers had allegedly planted an explosive device somewhere. The “bomb” was planted to scare the parents into going along with the extortion scheme, according to police.
“There was a call during the course of the investigation that the Police Department received [stating that] a device was going to detonate at a specific address on the 6000 block of Durham Avenue,” said Cannella.
Cannella said that the phone call stated that they would “bomb the girl’s house” unless they received the cash.
A portion of Durham Avenue was evacuated while the Jersey City Bomb Squad checked for a device, but was unable to find any and classified the incident as a hoax.
‘Don’t know why’
Meuli, the only adult in the plot, was allegedly there to “maintain the ruse,” said Cannella, who believed Meuli allegedly left evidence at the crime scene and received cash from the alleged victim. Police believe the kidnap victim may have at one point given Meuli proceeds of a theft she had allegedly committed herself.
“We don’t know why these kids did it,” said Cannella. “I’ve heard a couple of different reasons [such as] it was a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, where the parents didn’t approve. These are children talking to adults and trying to make us believe their stories. Basically, I just think this was something that got way out of hand and they were unable to shut it down and control it.”
The 16-year-old victim was charged with two counts of conspiracy, false public alarm, and criminal intent. Everyone else was charged with criminal intent, theft by extortion, and conspiracy to commit theft by extortion, all in the second degree.
Meuli’s bail was set at $100,000, with the stipulation by Municipal Judge Nino Falcone that he must post the entire amount rather than the usual 10 per cent. He remains at the Hudson County Jail.
The juveniles were taken to the Hudson County Youth House in Secaucus, where they appeared in court on Wednesday.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.