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Kidnappers Claimed to Be CIA, Boy Testifies

September 24, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

INDIO — Testifying in the kidnapping trial of his mother and three alleged accomplices, a Palm Desert boy said Tuesday the men who abducted him claimed they were on a mission with the CIA.

Nicholas Michael Farber, now 10, said he was awakened by a loud thumping just after 1 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2002. Outside his room, "my dad was getting beat up on the floor by the front door by two other men," Nicholas said. "[He was] making a strangling noise, and they were hurting him."

Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Cindy Nguyen asked Nicholas how he reacted to seeing his father beaten.

"I started screaming and crying and said, 'Dad, I love you. Stop,' " said Nicholas, who began to cry as he recounted the scene.

Authorities allege that Debra Rose, 39, Nicholas' mother, arranged for the kidnapping only days after her former husband took custody of the boy following her arrest in Colorado on suspicion of violating a restraining order.

Rose is charged with felony burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, child stealing and child concealing for her alleged role in the abduction that spawned an Amber Alert on the heels of the deadly abductions of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam and 5-year-old Samantha Runnion.

Attorneys for Rodrique Edgar Van Blake and Elias Gutierrez, the two San Diego County men alleged to have abducted Nicholas and beaten Michael Farber, argued last week that the kidnapping was orchestrated by Michael Riley, a friend of Rose, and that Riley had duped the pair into believing the abduction was part of a CIA mission.

Arnold Lieman, Riley's attorney, said outside the courtroom that his client denies playing a leading role in the case.

"There are inconsistent defenses in this case," he said.

The three men are charged with felony kidnapping of a child under age 14. All four defendants remain jailed, with Rose in custody in lieu of $1-million bail.

Nicholas was found two days after his abduction in an RV parked in a San Diego County campground. His hair had been dyed in an apparent attempt to disguise him.

Nicholas pointed to Van Blake in court as one of the abductors and testified that his injured father reached out in desperation as he was driven away.

Later that morning, Nicholas said, he spoke by cellular phone to his mother and was united with her in a parking lot near Disneyland.

Nicholas said he asked Riley why he had been taken.

"Riley said my father was going to sell me to Mexican people," Nicholas testified.

"Did you think that was weird?" Nguyen asked.

"Very weird," Nicholas said, adding that Rose repeated the story. "I believed her because she was my mom."

Soon after he arrived in Anaheim, Nicholas said, Rose painted freckles on his face and dressed him as a girl. They then drove to a remote campsite near the San Diego County community of Jamul and spent the night, with Riley announcing a planned Florida trip.

"The day we were supposed to leave was the day the police came," Nicholas said. "I remember this loud voice from a megaphone asking for my mom to step out of the vehicle."

During the four hours of testimony, Nicholas nibbled on chocolate, sipped from a white foam plastic cup and frequently smiled at family members in the courtroom, including his paternal grandparents, Bob and Irma Farber of Long Beach.

"He's telling exactly what happened," Bob Farber said during one court break. "He loves his mother, and I'm sure he doesn't want her to go to jail forever over this, but she needs to pay for what she has done."

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