Two men face charges in Puffinburger kidnapping case

Federal prosecutors have charged two men in last fall’s kidnapping of 6-year-old Cole Puffinburger, who was abducted from his home and held for ransom after his grandfather disappeared with $4 million in drug money.

Jose Lopez-Buelna, 49, and Luis Vega-Rubio, 36, each face one count of conspiracy to kidnap a child, which carries a minimum 20-year prison sentence.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said they were behind the Oct. 15 abduction, when two men stormed the boy’s northeast Las Vegas home and restrained his mom and her boyfriend before kidnapping the child.

FBI agents arrested Vega-Rubio Tuesday morning in Los Angeles.

Lopez-Buelna has been in custody since Oct. 17, when he was arrested on an unrelated gun charge. He was eventually charged with illegally entering the country after being deported. He had been kicked out of the country in 1998, 2003 and 2006, federal authorities said.

He pleaded guilty Feb. 4 and was set to be sentenced May 4.

Cole’s mother, Julie Puffinburger, told investigators that the kidnappers stormed her home at gunpoint, restrained her and her boyfriend with duct tape and plastic zip ties, and searched the home for money.

When they couldn’t find money, they took the boy.

Cole told authorities he was held in two locations, and his kidnappers put him in a suitcase to move him.

He was released three days later, after his grandfather, Clemens Fred Tinnemeyer, was arrested by the FBI in California.

Authorities believe the kidnappers planned to hold Cole for ransom after Tinnemeyer stole $4 million while working as a courier smuggling large quantities of drugs and money across the Mexican border, according to court documents.

Lopez-Buelna hired Tinnemeyer to help pay off a methamphetamine debt. When Tinnemeyer didn’t get paid for a trip, he took the cash he found stashed in the motor home he used to smuggle contraband and disappeared, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In August, Vega-Rubio sent a threatening note to Julie Puffinburger about getting Tinnemeyer to contact them, authorities said. Lopez-Buelna later held one of Tinnemeyer’s friends at gunpoint to find out where Julie Puffinburger lived, and he offered her $20,000 to find her father, authorities said.

After Tinnemeyer’s arrest, federal agents found $3.7 million in safety deposit boxes, bank accounts and storage units in three states, including Mississippi and Nevada.

The FBI has cleared Julie Puffinburger of any involvement in the abduction, said her lawyer, Dennis Leavitt.

Since his release, Cole has been living with his father, Robert Puffinburger. A custody case was pending in Family Court.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at or 702-383-0281.

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