By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police rescued a businessman from a New York City warehouse where he had been held captive for a month by kidnappers who demanded a $3 million ransom from his family in Ecuador, authorities said.
Police posing as building inspectors found Pedro Portugal, 52, in the warehouse with his hands bound in cloth and duct tape and with a woolen cap pulled down over his eyes as one of his captors tried to escape through a window.
"He basically came up to us and said: 'I've been kidnapped! I've been kidnapped!'" Deputy Inspector Gregory Antonsen told Reuters.
Portugal was abducted in the New York City borough of Queens on April 18 by a man who flashed what looked like a police badge, prosecutors said.
The man and an accomplice forced Portugal into a vehicle, said prosecutors, who charged three men with the kidnapping late on Wednesday. The men pulled a mask over Portugal's face, punched him, held a knife to his belly and warned him to stay quiet, prosecutors said.
Portugal was taken to a warehouse where, over the course of a month, he was hooded, tied up and beaten, authorities said. The men burned his hands with acid, punched out some of his teeth, threatened to chop off his fingers and kill him, a pattern of abuse that was interrupted on Portugal's birthday, when his captors presented him with a cake, police said.
"This is a terrifying story," Richard Brown, the Queens district attorney, said in a statement.
Police said they were still investigating why Portugal, who runs a modest insurance and accounting business out of a Queens storefront, was targeted. Portugal's family owned businesses and property in Ecuador, Antonsen said.
"I would say by Ecuadorean standards they're fairly well off," Antonsen said in an interview. "But I wouldn't call them wealthy."
Portugal lives with his partner and four children in Queens, and has two children from a previous marriage, Antonsen said.
Christian Acuna, 35, Dennis Alves, 32, and Eduardo Moncayo, 38, were arraigned on charges of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment on Wednesday and were being held without bail.
A lawyer who represented Alves at his arraignment said he planned to plead not guilty. Lawyers for the other two defendants could not be reached on Thursday.
Police said they were seeking at least two other men, including a man they believe is the ringleader, who left for Ecuador a day after the kidnapping.
Alves told police he had been promised $5,000 to kidnap and guard Portugal during the day, along with Acuna, who told police he was getting $800 per week for the job, according to the criminal complaint.
All three defendants were in the room, along with the suspected ringleader, when Portugal first rang his family in Ecuador to ask for the $3 million ransom, the complaint said. Portugal's mother then contacted her son's family in Queens before his kidnap was reported to police in both countries.
Police tracked Portugal's location to a warehouse in Long Island City in Queens by looking into addresses associated with people with criminal records who had recently traveled to Ecuador. Overnight surveillance teams saw food deliveries to the warehouse and a single light burning in a window through the night, Antonsen said.
On Monday, a team of officers posing as building inspectors went inside and found Portugal on the third floor in a room furnished with little more than a mattress.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta, Bernadette Baum and Andre Grenon)