Kidnapped executive found after 12 days in N. Y. pit Police recover $3 million ransom

August 17, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- For 12 excruciating days and nights, New York clothing executive Harvey Weinstein clung to life inside a tiny dark pit, 14 feet below a secluded rail yard in Upper Manhattan, where a band of kidnappers had left him to die.

He survived by eating fruit, mostly bananas, that the kidnappers lowered to him until they received the requested ransom money.

The one-time Marine lay in total darkness, his legs in shackles; at times, so were his arms.

He made tape recordings at his captors' instruction, pleading with his children to pay a $3 million ransom.

He became so desperate at one point that he actually thought about hanging himself with a plastic yellow belt, police sources said. But Harvey Weinstein, 68, never gave up.

Yesterday, as police detectives combed through the rail yard near 157th Street and the Henry Hudson Parkway, shouting Mr. Weinstein's name, they finally got the answer they were waiting for.

"I'm here," a muffled voice called out. "I'm here."

Then they pulled the shaken businessman from the bottom of a plastic-lined 4-by-5-foot pit -- frazzled, weak and dirty, but very much alive.

Two brothers were in custody last night for the kidnapping, one of them a sewing-machine operator at Lord West Formal Wear in the New York borough of Queens, where Mr. Weinstein is owner and chief executive officer of the company, which makes tuxedos and other clothing. Police said they were still searching for at least two other suspects.

The wife of one of those in custody also was expected to be charged.

The ransom -- $3 million in 50- and 100-dollar bills -- which was handed over to the kidnappers early yesterday morning, was recovered by mid-afternoon.

In the end, the kidnappers failed to live up to their end of the bargain.

They had promised to release their captive three hours after the ransom arrived. But when more than five hours had passed and they made no move to set Mr. Weinstein free, detectives from the police Major Case Squad began moving in.

Shortly before noon yesterday, police arrested Fermin Rodriguez, 38, who had worked at Lord West for eight years. He was apprehended as he ran from his car toward an abandoned subway tunnel in the Bronx.

An hour later, detectives grabbed his younger brother, Francisco Antonio Rodriguez, 29, who worked at a video store in Queens. He was arrested at his parents' apartment in Manhattan.

One of the bags of money was found in the younger brother's apartment. Police found the rest of the money in a wooded area.

Mr. Weinstein's ordeal, which Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described as "a story that makes the movies sound tame," began Aug. 4. He was last seen leaving the Mark Twain Diner in Queens. The diner is 16 blocks from Mr. Weinstein's factory, and he had breakfast there almost every weekday.

Mr. Kelly said a total of 50 telephone calls were made by the kidnappers to Mr. Weinstein's office and to his luxury co-op apartment in Manhattan.

Detectives found Mr. Weinstein in a camouflaged pit -- covered by a 125-pound metal plate, thick wooden planks, four large cobblestones and six inches of dirt. "You would have walked right by it," said one detective.

The scene beneath was truly chilling: A dark-as-night hole, shaped something like a giant light bulb, narrow at the top, wider at the base. All of it lined in plastic bubble wrap, presumably to keep the moisture out.

"The moment we lifted the plate and we saw his face and he looked at the sunlight, the look on his face was indescribable," one of the detectives said.

It seemed to take Mr. Weinstein a moment to grasp that he was finally free.

"Thank God you're here," Mr. Weinstein said in a shaking voice. "God, I love the New York City Police Department."

He kissed one cop and hugged another. Then, he asked for something he had been craving for days.

"Do you smoke?" he asked Detective Ruben Santiago. "I could use a cigarette."

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