(USA TODAY) ATLANTA — Authorities have charged five people in the alleged kidnapping of the father of a North Carolina prosecutor, who was rescued late Wednesday night by the FBI.
John Strong, special agent in charge in North Carolina, said the kidnapping of Frank Arthur Janssen of Wake Forest, N.C., on Saturday was related to his daughter's prosecution of North Carolina prisoner Kelvin Melton. Melton is serving a life sentence for his 2012 conviction for being a habitual felon. He was also convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill.
"He spent five nights in the hands of a group of very dangerous people," Strong said. "We can only imagine the uncertainty, confusion and fear he experienced."
Janssen, 63, was not hurt during the ordeal, he said.
The FBI rescued Janssen late Wednesday night and said he had been taken from his Wake Forest home last week in what the FBI said is "a kidnapping plot."
Janssen's alleged abductors, who range in age from 19 to 21, apparently drove the victim more than 400 miles from Wake Forest to Atlanta.
Authorities said Janssen's kidnappers threatened to torture him and sent "specific demands" to his wife via text messages.
Strong said Melton is serving a life sentence at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C., after a conviction won by Janssen's daughter, identified by North Carolina media outlets as Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen.
According to criminal complaints filed today in United States District Court in North Carolina, the abduction began with a ruse: Janssen was assaulted by several people after "a heavy-set white female" knocked on his door. The assailants tazed and overpowered him, put him into a vehicle and drove him to Atlanta.
On Monday, April 7, the kidnappers began texting Janssen's wife, Christie, stating that her husband was in the truck of a car headed to California, that he would be "sent back to you in six boxes" if police were contacted, and that the kidnappers would take other family members to Italy "and torture and kill them," according to the criminal complaints.
The kidnappers "made specific demands for the benefit of" Melton, and sent a photo of Janssen tied up and seated in a chair. The sender of the text messages made demands and threatened to kill Janssen if police learned of the texts. Authorities determined that calls had been made between the cell phone that sent those texts and a cell phone belonging to Melton, the complaints say.
According to the criminal complaints, the FBI monitored calls between a cell phone in Atlanta and a cell phone at Polk. They overheard the alleged abductors and someone at Polk in conversation during which they apparently discussed killing someone:
"We want to make sure it's in a secluded area and the ground is soft so we can go three feet."
"Get a bag, put it over his head and stuff something in his mouth."
"However you feel like doing it just do it."
"Make sure to clean the area up. Don't leave anything. Don't leave any DNA behind."
When authorities tried to enter Melton's cell after this conversation to search for the cell phone, he temporarily barred the door and smashed the phone, according to the complaints.
Janssen was rescued by the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team just before midnight at a residence inside an apartment complex on New Town Circle in southeast Atlanta, FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said.
"Both Mr. Janssen and his family have remained strong and focused throughout this ordeal," Strong said. "The Janssen family wishes to express their sincere appreciation to all those who helped to bring Mr. Janssen home safely."
The five suspects are in custody on federal kidnapping charges. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life without parole.
Don Connelly, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said no additional charges have been filed against Melton "at this time."