Quirk prevented kidnappers' escape

August 18, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- Several of the kidnappers who imprisoned tuxedo mogul Harvey Weinstein in a Manhattan rail yard pit tried to escape on a Monday morning flight to the Dominican Republic, abandoning their victim to die, police said yesterday.

But the 11 a.m. flight never left John F. Kennedy Airport as scheduled because of a tropical storm in the Caribbean country.

"They were ready to go," said Capt. George Duke, commander of the New York City Police Department's Major Case Squad.

And, he said, all signs indicated that the kidnappers intended to leave their multimillionaire captive in the pit after receiving a $3 million ransom in duffel bags from Mr. Weinstein's family.

"There was no indication at all they were going to call and let us know where he was," Captain Duke said. He declined to name the suspects who bought tickets for the flight, and would not say which suspects had boarded the plane at JFK.

Aside from two brothers arrested Monday, a third suspect was being held last night and at least three other suspects were being sought, police said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Weinstein was recuperating yesterday at home, surrounded by family and friends, police said.

The attempted getaway by air is the latest twist in Mr. Weinstein's harrowing 12-day abduction.

The formalwear executive was rescued from a pit about 8 feet under a secluded rail yard in upper Manhattan. He had been kept alive by fruit and water lowered down by his captors, although police said the ordeal caused him to consider suicide.

An employee of Mr. Weinstein's tuxedo company, Fermin Rodriguez, 38, and his brother, Francisco Antonio Rodriguez, 29, a video store worker, were arrested Monday and arraigned yesterday on charges of first-degree kidnapping. It is a felony punishable by life imprisonment.

"We have what amounts to a full confession" from Fermin Rodriguez, Assistant District Attorney Sarah Hines said at the arraignment.

The motive for the kidnapping appeared to be plain and simple greed. A source close to the investigation said that when interrogators asked Fermin Rodriguez whether he held a grudge against Mr. Weinstein, he replied, "No, he's a nice guy."

Police said Fermin Rodriguez was the one who led them to the spot where Mr. Weinstein was buried.

Late yesterday, authorities arrested a third suspect, described as a girlfriend of Fermin Rodriguez.

Police said Aurelina Leonor is believed responsible for making several ransom-related calls to the Weinstein family. She was arrested at her apartment yesterday afternoon.

A fourth person, Francisco Rodriguez's wife, Carolina, 27, was released yesterday following her arrest Monday.

Police learned of the planned departure of some of the suspects while searching Fermin Rodriguez's upper Manhattan apartment early Monday morning.

They found the apartment through the license plate on the car that collected the $3 million ransom.

The FBI and Port Authority police moved to ground the plane 15 minutes before its scheduled departure, but learned it already had been detained due to a tropical storm in the Dominican Republic.

A police lieutenant said Mr. Weinstein, 68, expressed eagerness yesterday to return to work today or tomorrow. He is the chief executive of the Lord West Formalwear Co. of Queens, a firm employing 450 people and generating $20 million in sales last year.

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