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Kidnapped boy’s grandfather hit with racketeering charge

He never smuggled thousands of pounds of cocaine across the country.

He never ran off with millions of dollars in stolen drug money.

But his grandfather did, and that’s why the boy was snatched from his northeast Las Vegas home last month, according to federal court documents. He was released unharmed after three days.

With his motor home and its hidden compartment, Clemens Fred Tinnemeyer, 51, played the mule in a major drug trafficking operation, smuggling large amounts of drugs and money between Mexico and the United States since at least October 2007, according to the documents.

The documents were made public Monday after Tinnemeyer and his girlfriend, Terri Leavy, 42, appeared in a federal courtroom in Las Vegas on criminal charges filed in connection with the drug case.

The two were arrested within days of Cole’s Oct. 15 kidnapping on federal material witness warrants, but a judge dismissed those warrants Monday after a federal prosecutor said the couple would not cooperate to avoid self-incrimination.

However, Tinnemeyer and Leavy were charged with transporting large amounts of cash across state lines as part of a racketeering enterprise. The charges involve two packages of $60,000 the couple sent via FedEx from Mississippi to Tinnemeyer’s daughter, Julie Puffinburger, in Las Vegas and Leavy’s son, Josh Mooney, in Reno.

Tinnemeyer, with a scruffy face and bleached hair that failed to hide his dark roots, and Leavy, with stringy auburn shoulder-length hair, said little during the hearing except to answer a few questions from the judge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss argued that both should be held in federal custody because they might flee. She also said the pair faced drug possession charges related to a traffic stop in Utah.

Neither defendant argued against continued detention, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Johnston ordered both defendants to remain in federal custody.

According to a sworn statement from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Tinnemeyer and Leavy shipped the cash from a mail services store in Waveland, Miss., on June 18.

After receiving her shipment, Julie Puffinburger put the cash in a safe deposit box at Silver State Schools Credit Union, as her father directed. When Las Vegas police searched the box two weeks ago, they found $60,920 in cash and a handwritten letter, according to the statement.

"$6,000 pay off visa bill. I love you. Be back in two weeks. Love me. P.S. your truck should run," the note read, according to the document.

Leavy also shipped a third package to her sister, Colleen Andrews, who lived in Henderson with her husband, Shawn Andrews, the DEA said.

The cash originated from Tinnemeyer’s role in the drug pipeline connecting Mexico and the United States, authorities said.

A witness who lived with Julie Puffinburger and Cole detailed Tinnemeyer’s role during an interview with the FBI.

According to the witness, Tinnemeyer divulged the details of the operation after the witness drove to Cedar City, Utah, to pick up Tinnemeyer and Leavy, who had been arrested in April on drug-related charges during a traffic stop on Interstate 15. Utah authorities found a small amount of methamphetamine but did not find what Leavy called the "big stuff" hidden in the vehicle, the statement said.

Tinnemeyer told the witness he worked for the Mexican mafia transporting drugs and money in his motor home. He routinely parked the recreational vehicle outside a house in Victorville, Calif., and when he picked it up later it would be loaded with more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine, according to the DEA statement.

Tinnemeyer delivered the cocaine around the United States before taking large amounts of cash south of the border. For his services, Tinnemeyer was paid $50,000 to $75,000, according to the statement.

Tinnemeyer and his motor home crossed into the United States from Mexico four times at four different cities between October 2007 and April, the DEA said.

Tinnemeyer and Leavy were flush with money, paying $30,000 cash for a Corvette, putting $20,000 down for a motor home and spending another $50,000 to install a hidden compartment, according to the statement.

When Cole was kidnapped, Tinnemeyer was already under investigation by DEA offices in Mississippi and Southern California.

During interviews with federal agents after the kidnapping, Leavy said the boy was taken by Jose Lopez and Miguel Lnu, two "major drug traffickers" in Las Vegas. She said she and Tinnemeyer had been on the run after stealing $4 million from the men, according to the court document.

She told the agents that they had smuggled drugs into the United States, and she had information about "Mexican cartel(s), specifically the location of a U.S.-based distribution network in Fontana, Calif.," the statement said.

The couple stashed the money in duffel bags and suitcases in storage units. One witness in Mississippi told investigators he helped them hide four large duffel bags containing at least $1 million apiece.

The witness, who stole $100,000 from a bag, told agents that Tinnemeyer planned to hide the cash by opening bank accounts with $9,000, which falls under the mandatory $10,000 federal reporting limit. Tinnemeyer also told him to say he won a large lawsuit settlement if anyone ever asked about the money.

DEA agents found more than $3.5 million in bundled cash in a Riverside, Calif., storage unit, and Bliss said authorities believe the total amount involved is in the $5 million to $6 million range.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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