LAS VEGAS – A Las Vegas man whose grandson was kidnapped after he stole $4.5 million in alleged drug money told a federal jury Thursday he was lucky the boy was taken because it led to a government deal for his testimony about an international cocaine ring.
Clemens Fred Tinnemeyer said in U.S. District Court that he was suicidal, homicidal and "a little crazy" after seeing a television news report that 6-year-old Cole Puffinburger had been kidnapped in October 2008.
He didn't know what to do at first, but found a lawyer in Riverside, Calif., more than a day later and turned himself in to authorities. That led to the deal, which he said meant telling the truth about driving drugs around Mexico and the United States and stealing $4.5 million from a hidden compartment in a recreational vehicle — in exchange for immunity.
"You were lucky," defense attorney Kevin Kelly told Tinnemeyer during cross-examination.
"Yeah," replied Tinnemeyer, 54.
The details of Tinnemeyer's deal with prosecutors are unknown because his case has been sealed; however, he testified Thursday in a red prison jumpsuit.
Tinnemeyer was the reason Cole was taken from his home in 2008, lawyers on both sides said in opening statements.
Prosecutors contended defendant Jose Lopez-Buelna, 50, led the drug operation and took the boy after Tinnemeyer ran away with the money and didn't return.
Tinnemeyer testified that he found a hidden compartment full of money in the RV while driving from Tennessee into Mississippi. When a prosecutor asked what he thought, Tinnemeyer smiled and said, "Payday."
Tinnemeyer said he used the money to go on a spending spree — buying a $30,000 Corvette, a $14,000 Dodge truck, a $9,000 used Lexus and a $20,000 boat. He said he also parceled out some of the money to friends and relatives, sending $60,000 to his daughter, Julie Puffinburger.
Tinnemeyer said he hid some of the money in the woods in two bags right after he found it and threw away a prepaid cell phone that Lopez-Buelna gave him.
After the grandfather was arrested, he and his girlfriend, Terri Lynn Leavy, were charged with interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises, according to a criminal complaint. The case was closed in February 2009 with a declaration that it was being folded into a sealed criminal case.
Lopez-Buelna's lawyer said the kidnapping was a ruse staged by Julie Puffinburger, the boy's mother, and his grandmother. Cole's family wanted to find Tinnemeyer and the money, and chase away the men looking for him, defense attorney Robert Draskovich said.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Julie Puffinburger calmly denied the allegation during testimony Wednesday.
Cole was not harmed in the ordeal and was returned to a Las Vegas neighborhood three days after he was taken.
Tinnemeyer testified that at Lopez-Buelna's request, he drove the recreational vehicle from Mexicali, Mexico, to Las Vegas, then to California and eventually to Atlanta and New York. He said he made several trips and was paid at least $25,000 in "cash money" each time.
Lopez-Buelna and an aide provided instructions in person and by phone, and gave him a prepaid cell phone to check in with them along his route, Tinnemeyer testified.
"Each trip, I was given a different phone" and $5,000 in cash for expenses, Tinnemeyer said.
Prosecutors said at the start of the trial Wednesday that Cole's mother and her boyfriend were held at gunpoint at their home while men searched for the stolen money. The boy was taken when the men couldn't find any money, authorities said.
Lopez-Buelna's attorney argued the boy changed his story about the kidnapping over four interviews with investigators, and the boy was coached by his mother.
Lopez-Buelna has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to launder money, money laundering, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit hostage taking and hostage taking.
Three other men are accused in the case.
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