Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Strange Case of a Drug-War Informant, a Ferrari and an Alleged Kidnapping

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 2014 at 10:48 AM

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Newton County prosecutor Jake Skouby says the Lalo case is "more intrigue than I'm used to dealing with." - PHOTO: BILL CONROY
  • Photo: Bill Conroy
  • Newton County prosecutor Jake Skouby says the Lalo case is "more intrigue than I'm used to dealing with."

Kelly Schroer declines to talk to Riverfront Times when reached by phone to discuss the kidnapping charges facing her ex-boyfriend. Her brother, Jeff, is a bit more willing.

"She's having a tough time dealing with this case," Jeff Schroer says from suburban Buffalo.

"Did [Lalo] tell you about the restraining order in Tonawanda, New York? All the violations?" Jeff Schroer asks. "I don't even know, but there's a whole shit-ton of detectives up here waiting to get their hands on him."

The Erie County District Attorney's Office in New York confirms that a case against Lalo for "harassment, unlawful imprisonment and criminal contempt" was presented to a grand jury in February, a little more than a month after Lalo was taken into custody in Joplin, but no charges have been brought to date. The D.A.'s office says the case remains open.

"They had talked about transferring the charges to New York because that's where the events originated," says Captain Leavens with the Newton County Sheriff's Office. "[The prosecutor's office in Erie County] had been in contact with our prosecutor's office, but I don't know where that stands now. We've not heard anything further on this."

For Lalo, Buffalo was supposed to be a place where he could start life anew without constantly having to look over his shoulder. He landed a job there as a long-haul truck driver, allowing him to maintain a low profile and an unpredictable schedule — all the better for staying off the radar. Still, it wasn't always easy to shake the edgy excitement and glitzy lifestyle that the drug trade had offered. So when a wealthy cousin asked Lalo if he would do him a favor and fly out to California and retrieve a Ferrari he owned, the former cartel member jumped at the chance.

Lalo first asked a friend in Buffalo to accompany him on the trek, but the pal, a businessman who asked not to be named because he fears cartel retribution, tells the Riverfront Times that he told Lalo he was "nuts." For starters, driving a Ferrari — with Mexican plates — through a well-known drug route like Interstate 44 was bound to attract the wrong kind of attention. And if the cops didn't stop the car, the late-December snows along the way likely would. The Ferrari rides only about three inches off the ground.

The friend insists that Lalo asked Schroer to accompany him only as an "afterthought." He says he doesn't understand how Lalo can still remain in Missouri nine months after his arrest.

"How can they keep him incarcerated so long over a hearsay case, where [Schroer] could have stopped anywhere along the line?" Lalo's friend asks. "He didn't intend to kidnap her. That's ridiculous."

The point of bringing the Ferrari to New York, Lalo says, was so that he and his cousin could attend the NFL Super Bowl in New Jersey last February. Joplin Police Department's Lieutenant Matt Stewart says the Ferrari was towed after Lalo's arrest, but no charges have been brought against him in relation to the vehicle. Lalo says his cousin has already reclaimed the car.

In her statement to Joplin police, Schroer told authorities that Lalo "took her cell phone" and prohibited her from contacting anyone "without his permission" throughout their journey. But according to a police report in New York, Kelly Schroer and her brother were in communication during the trip. Just eight hours prior to Lalo's arrest in Joplin, Jeff Schroer filed a report with police in their hometown of Tonawanda stating that he was "concerned about his sister's welfare" because his phone calls with her were "very short," and the text messages he received appeared to be written by someone who "speaks little English." Jeff Schroer told police he believed his sister was "being held against her will" by her boyfriend with connections to the "Mexican drug trade."

The Tonawanda police then contacted ICE. The agents responding indicated that "there are no restraints" on Lalo's ability to travel. However, the ICE agents asked to be made aware of any charges that might be brought against him and also to be kept apprised of any developments.

Lalo, meanwhile, contends that Schroer's kidnapping allegations are "all lies," pointing out that he has photos of them together, smiling and embracing during the trip. He also notes that she could have left at any time or brought her concerns to authorities prior to them arriving in Joplin. Lalo believes the affidavit she signed, denying that she had ever been abused or threatened by him, is further proof that she accompanied him on her own free will.

At the court hearing on July 21, Lalo's public defender, Kathleen Byrnes, raised another point, arguing that Missouri has no jurisdiction to try this case.

"The prosecution has filed [charges] in the case, but there are no facts alleged concerning what particular crimes were committed in Missouri," Byrnes told the judge. "The probable cause statement refers to things that may or may not have occurred in other parts of the U.S."

"There is nothing to show why the state thinks there was a kidnapping," Byrnes continued. "Ms. Schroer said they were on their way back to New York. She desired to go there, and there does not appear to be any acts in the allegations that occurred in Missouri. What did my client do in Missouri that constitutes kidnapping?"

The hearing ended with Judge Timothy Perigo, a middle-aged magistrate with close-cropped hair, stating that he would draft an order spelling out what the state needs to disclose. "The prosecution will not be required to answer interrogatories [from the defense], but they should give the defense some more specificity on the charges."

A jury trial is now slated for October 29.

Lalo says he is so worn down by the course of his life since working for ICE that he is now reconciled with his fate, even if that's prison, death at the hands of the cartel — or both.

"I'm not afraid at all," he says. "I'm so tired at this point in my life of everything, that if they kill me it would be the best thing for me. Since 2004, for me it's been job after job, one thing after thing, so believe me, the last thing I care right now is if someone come and kill me."

The cartel has tried to take out Lalo before.

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