Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald
By Jon Johnson
GRAHAM COUNTY – The situation played out like it was pulled straight from a movie or episode of Netflix’s Narcos; a man, lured to a residence by a woman, is taken at gunpoint by two masked men. With a hood placed over the victim’s head and his hands zip-tied behind his back, he is pistol-whipped and tortured with an actual blow torch, while the kidnappers demand money and drugs.
But the scene did not take place in any movie or television show. It happened in Graham County just across the Gila River in a small community of manufactured homes off Calle Mesa Verde just north of Airport Road. And the victim is allegedly a heroin dealer, whose product and money were the reasons for his abduction.
The evening started off well enough for the victim. It was Thursday, Dec. 6, and he had been picked up by a woman with the intention of going to her house to watch some movies. Along the way, the pair stopped to purchase some beer and then went to the woman’s residence to watch movies and hang. Since the woman has now been arrested and charged with armed robbery and armed robbery with a deadly weapon, the Gila Herald is identifying her as Venicia Montez, 24.
Montez excused herself to take some clothes to the next-door residence where her son was staying, and just after she left two Hispanic men wearing ski masks came out of a back bedroom and ordered the victim to the ground at gunpoint. The kidnappers were later identified as being Serjio Ezekiel Garcia, 24, and Johnny Ray Morales Casas, 26. However, the case remains under investigation, and according to the Graham County Sheriff’s Office, neither of those two men had yet been booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility as of Thursday, Dec. 13.
The victim said the men took his shoes and wallet and beat him with a cane and the gun, which he described as being a black handgun “Walther P-22 style”.
After zip tying his hands behind his back and placing a mask on his head, the men forced the victim into a car that had pulled up outside and they drove him to another residence where they allegedly beat him and threatened to burn his eyes with a blow torch if the victim didn’t give them his money and “stuff”, according to the victim.
The victim said the men might have gotten the idea that he had money due to a Facebook post he made. He said they perpetrators stole his two cell phones, necklace, watch, baseball cap, and his wallet, which had $50 in cash and various cards. During the ordeal, one of the men allegedly told the victim, “You’re going to (expletive deleted) die tonight.”
At one point, the men took the victim back into the car and drove to another location where one of the abductors went into another residence while leaving the driver, later identified as Bryan Antonio Medina, 19, to hold the gun on the victim in the car.
The group then went back to the initial area of the abduction, and as they were walking the victim back into a residence when the victim said he took off running to another house and yelled for help. At that time, an occupant at the house the victim ran to cut the zip ties off the victim’s wrists and the police were called. Coincidentally, according to a Sheriff’s Office report, Casas was currently staying at the residence the victim ran to for help and the woman who the victim initially began the evening with has a child in common with the other kidnapping suspect, Garcia.
Deputies were dispatched to the residence at about 10:07 p.m. After contacting the victim and hearing his tale, deputies and the victim went back to the originating residence and located Montz, who the victim had started the evening with.
Montez initially said she and her son were the only ones in the house, but a search of the residence yielded her brother and cousin, Medina, in a back bedroom.
When Medina was contacted, he initially denied being in the area at the time of the abduction and denied having a car – he would later find to be lying on both counts.
The victim recognized a necklace Medina was wearing and identified him as the driver. A key fob to Medina’s red, 2001 Honda Civic was found in his pocket and the vehicle was located parked outside. The car was identified by the victim as the one he was forced to get into and the victim’s stolen wallet was located inside the vehicle.
After initially denying knowing the abductors, a few days later Medina, who had been jailed for the incident, advised that his cousin (Montez) was in on the crime and that the two men who accosted the victim were Casas and Garcia. Medina advised Garcia was the one who held the gun for most of the night and that the men were trying to get the victim to tell them where his stash of two ounces of heroin was. Medina said the victim told them he would get it for them if they let him live, but that they had to let him go for him to get it.
After initially being arrested and booked into the jail on charges of aggravated assault, armed robbery, and kidnapping, the Graham County Attorney’s Office filed a complaint against Medina on Monday, Dec. 11 charging him with kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, and robbery.
The cases against Casas and Garcia, as well as other persons of interest, are still pending.