La Bamba owner safe and sound after being abducted at gunpoint

By Sky Opila

An owner of the La Bamba Mexican Restaurants is home safe after allegedly being abducted across state lines by two Mattoon, Ill., men.

The owner, Antonio Aguas, was leaving work, 1905 Glenn Park Drive, on the evening of Sept. 10 when two men, later identified as Adrian Lopez and Terence Merritt, allegedly kidnapped him at gunpoint. However, after a five-day ordeal, Antonio Aguas was safely returned home.

La Bamba Mexican Restaurant, which is famous for its slogan “burritos as big as your head,” started in Champaign and eventually grew to 27 locations across the Midwest. According to the La Bamba Web site, the restaurant was started in 1987 by brothers Ramiro and Antonio Aguas because they often traveled from Chicago to Champaign to visit their friends and were frustrated that there were no good restaurants.

The kidnapping ordeal led FBI agents to Indiana until the location of Aguas was revealed. Due to a pending trial, no one is available to comment; however, an official affidavit has been released.

According to the affidavit, employees of La Bamba Mexican Restaurant arrived at work on the morning of Sept. 11 to find the Aguas’ car parked on the side of the restaurant with the window all the way down and no keys inside. Police were notified at about noon that day that there was a missing person.

Also that day, brother Ramiro Aguas received a phone call on his cell phone while visiting relatives in Mexico instructing him to return to the United States and not tell anyone of the call or he would never see his brother again. Ramiro then returned to the United States.

The next day, Ramiro received another phone call from an unknown person telling him to obtain $250,000 and that they would call him back on Sept. 13 with additional instructions.

On the afternoon of Sept. 13, Ramiro received a phone call that told him to go to Bloomington, Ill., immediately, but Ramiro said he did not have the money yet.

Later that evening, he received a phone call where he told the callers he had the money and was on his way to Bloomington.

At about 8 p.m., Ramiro received another phone call that said that Antonio was not in Illinois and that “Big Guys” will want more money. The call was traced to a gas station in Peru, Ill.

For the next three days, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies monitored phone calls and Ramiro was sent to a BP gas station in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he was supposed to drop off the $250,000.

Through investigation, law enforcement agents discovered that one of the kidnappers may be planning to arrive in a tow truck.

On the morning of Sept. 15, Ramiro dropped the money and left while police stayed and observed a tow truck pull up and Adrian Lopez exit the truck and retrieve the ransom money.

The tow truck was followed to a convenience store where Lopez exited and bought another bag to put the ransom money in.

Then, the truck was followed to a wooded area where Lopez ditched the original bag the ransom money was in.

Finally, the truck stopped at a Midas automotive store.

Lopez was arrested sitting on a bench in possession of the ransom money outside the Midas automotive store.

Meanwhile, another investigation was under way at a Budget Inn, 1411 U.S. 27 North, in Portland, Ind. Law enforcement agents contacted the owner of the motel and he told them that there was a high volume of calls coming from room 15 and that a man fitting Antonio’s description was inside.

With surveillance established, agents observed someone inside the room frequently peeking through or moving the window curtains.

Shortly after Lopez’s arrest, police knocked on the door of the room. Merritt answered the door.

Agents saw Aguas sitting in the room unrestrained and arrested Terence Merritt.

Aguas was returned home safely while Merritt and Lopez were put behind bars until the trial.

“This is a classic example of the power of combined law enforcement and intelligence resources,” said Weysan Dun, FBI special agent in charge, in an FBI press release.