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Kidnapped Vegas boy found; suspect sought

Police arrest the child's grandfather and look for another man. They link the abduction to Mexican drug dealers.

October 19, 2008|Nicholas Riccardi and Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — A 6-year-old boy who police said was kidnapped by Mexican drug dealers whom his grandfather robbed was found alive here late Saturday night, according to local news reports.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal and local news stations said police had found Cole Puffinburger and taken him to a hospital as a precautionary measure.

The grandfather, Clemons Fred Tinnemeyer, 51, was arrested in Riverside by FBI agents late Friday. Las Vegas Metropolitan police said he stole millions of dollars from the drug dealers, leading the dealers to abduct Cole from his home Wednesday.

Tinnemeyer was arrested as a material witness in a federal case, according to the FBI. He has not been charged with a crime and is talking with investigators.

Earlier Saturday, authorities scoured northeastern Las Vegas for signs of Cole and released the name and photo of a man they believed was involved in the abduction. They asked members of the public to contact police if they spot Jesus Gastelum -- whose age and residence are unknown -- and added that they had a third person in custody whom they were interviewing about the case. They did not identify that person.

"As we start putting the pieces together we're certainly optimistic it's leading us in the right direction," Las Vegas Police Capt. Vincent Cannito said at an afternoon news conference.

The brazen kidnapping -- three armed Latino men broke into Cole's home, tied up his mother and her boyfriend and ransacked the house -- is apparently a troubling migration of what has become a regular hazard in Mexico, where drug cartels abduct rivals or innocent bystanders for huge ransoms. In the U.S., such incidents are rare, though authorities in Arizona have been worried about increasing numbers of organized kidnappings of illegal immigrants and their smugglers in Phoenix.

The victims in those cases are often legally compromised. But the image of Cole -- a bespectacled boy who is 48 pounds, nearly 4 feet tall, blond and blue-eyed -- has galvanized the community.

Police said Tinnemeyer was tied to methamphetamine trafficking. The former carpenter moved to Las Vegas from Wisconsin about 15 years ago, neighbors said. Some said they had long wondered why a steady stream of cars pulled into his driveway at all hours.

Ann McKinney once called police to complain about the Tinnemeyer's visitors honking late at night as they pulled up, but authorities said they could do nothing. "They've got something going on in the back," she said.

Other neighbors said Tinnemeyer had told them that he had a recording studio behind his single-story, wood-paneled home. But few believed him. They knew he took his RV on weeks-long trips to Mexico, that people visited him at all hours, that he was able to afford a new corrugated steel roof without visible employment.

Tinnemeyer had not been seen in the middle-class neighborhood since May. Neighbors said they continued to see his wife, Diane, who works in the lunchroom of a nearby elementary school, and Cole.

Family friends who asked not to be identified for safety reasons said that the Tinnemeyer house was burglarized twice recently and that men dumped gasoline in the driveway and set it on fire.

The situation became clearer Friday when Las Vegas police publicly identified Tinnemeyer as linked to drug traffickers.

Las Vegas police served search warrants "across the country" at locations they believe are linked to Cole's disappearance and recovered "a large amount of cash," Cannito said.

Cole's father, Robert Puffinburger, is divorced from Tinnemeyer's daughter. In an interview on CNN, before news that Cole was found, he pleaded for the return of his child.

"I just want him home," Puffinburger said. "Drop him off somewhere, I don't care. Just let him go."

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nicholas.riccardi@ latimes.com

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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