Corruption in Mexico


Solar Installation Crew Kidnapped Over Alternative Energy Upgrades

Solar Installation Crew Kidnapped for Alternative Energy Upgrades

Author: ME Williamson

Posted: 24 December 2018

On December 6, 2018, I was kidnapped and held for ransom for an apparent refund from the sale of solar panels during the solar power installation project purchased. After my employee and I were released, the kidnappers stalked our solar panel store, threatened to kidnap us and burn down our homes. With nowhere else to turn, I turned to the police for help. Then I discovered the ugly underbelly and depth of Mexican police corruption. There are two kinds of people in Mexico: those who pay the police to conduct their semi-legitimate and illegitimate business and those who suffer the abuse of this corrupt system and way of life. I hope one day to change this system for the better.

With projects like the Villanueva solar plant currently producing 427 megawatts of power and the Don Jose solar farm, which was completed in May 2018 and produced 238 megawatts, solar has become big business in Mexico. Solar panels are popping up all over our city and throughout Mexico as businesses and homeowners realize additional cash savings each month from their PV investments.

Unfortunately, Mexico is also a leader in another area. The kidnapping and drug trafficking business in Mexico is booming. Every two hours, a person is kidnapped in Mexico and Syria alone has more kidnappings worldwide. Drug gangs use the disappearance of their fellow citizens as a way to force social control over a fearful local population.

According to Maria Elena Salazar, "in Coahuila alone, authorities have 120,000 human remains and only 20 of them have been properly identified," FUNDEC's Grace Fernandez told a DW reporter. "There is a lack of means and trained professionals to carry them out, as the laboratories are currently overwhelmed." There are currently more than 37,000 missing persons in Mexico. Hundreds of bodies have been unearthed from burned human remains scattered across various regions of Mexico, a characteristic of organized crime methods that are intended to leave no trace.

A solar panel installation crew working in northern Sonora Mexico was recently taken hostage by a ranch owner who had contracted a solar panel upgrade for his business.

Previously, the ranch owner had sent his daughter to approach the local solar installation company in October 2018 requesting a quote for solar equipment and installation services.



"We were aware of the risks of doing installations in this particular city. There are a lot of active marijuana growers in this area and we always try to be cautious," Mr. Williamson said.

Mark Williamson, a California native, came to Hermosillo and founded SolarSnap with 3 partners in 2013 after exploring northern Mexico on a mountain bike.

"I love this area. I think life in general is good in Mexico. You have to take a little bit of the bad with the good."

The rolling green hillsides and rolling terrain of this region of Mexico create ideal growing conditions for the marijuana plant. The money earned from the sale of illegal drugs in the United States goes primarily to local communities, providing jobs and a higher standard of living. This makes it difficult to combat drug traffickers because many communities in Mexico suffer from adverse poverty.

The kidnapping ordeal began at approximately 2:30 pm local time in the colonia, San Francisco, on the outskirts of San Pedro, in northern Hermosillo on December 6, 2018.

"We had suffered heavy losses during installation and had trouble accounting for the solar panels and other materials we had delivered to the job site. Things disappeared overnight."

The dispute between SolarSnap and the ranch owner came to a head a few days earlier when Mr. Williamson confronted the ranch owner. Apparently, Mr. Williamson wanted access to the security cameras to review video evidence housed in the compound's main office. "We just wanted to look at the cameras and see if we could find anything that would help us locate our missing solar equipment. The Gamez family said no."

Mr. Gamez became agitated and ordered the workers to be detained.

Without warning, a large metal gate that had admitted the 2 workers and their vehicle a few hours earlier was closed and locked. The two workers suddenly found themselves imprisoned with their work van inside the remote compound. Then, two large Weimaraner attack dogs were released into the high fenced area where the workers had been doing their work.

"We heard the metal door slam shut and looked around. The door we had entered through was locked and all we saw were high walls with barbed wire on top. Then we looked at each other. Apparently, our negotiations for video surveillance information had failed," said Mr. Williamson.

The ranch owner, accompanied by a daughter, came out of the main office and approached the trapped SolarSnap workers, which included Mr. Williamson. A thug took up a post in front of the locked front door.

Mr. Gamez with his daughter Magda explained to the workers that he wanted the workers to continue working as a guest until the work was completed. Upon Mr. Williamson's protest, Mr. Gamez offered the alternative solution of reimbursing his full investment in the project.

"That's when I got scared because I knew I was the only one who could really help us meet the rescue demands. The factory was an hour away, and our lives had just been equated to the delivery of a 45-panel solar installation or a large sum of money. I had heard many stories about other kidnappings in Mexico. I knew a neighbor whose wife and daughter were kidnapped for ransom. I never thought it would happen to me," Williamson said.

Mr. Gamez and his daughter retreated to the main office and left the workers to somehow conjure up the solar equipment or the money required for its release. Cell phone coverage was spotty in the remote compound, and they struggled to communicate with the store.

Finally, after almost half an hour, they received the signal and were able to reach the store located in downtown Hermosillo. Speaking with the store manager, Mr. Williamson quickly explained the situation and ordered the store to call the police. The store manager reported that there were only 10 solar panels in stock at the store. Mr. Williamson told the store workers to stay where they were and not to risk any more workers or vehicles by coming to San Pedro.

In Mexico, local police response is very slow and often never. Gamez's ranch was apparently well known to the police who would not go there. There was no easy way to contact the military. The workers were trapped and the sun was setting. The reality that the workers were to spend the night at the compound began to set in.

"I wondered how many days it would be before they got tired of feeding us and then killed us. It was a terrible feeling," Williamson said.

Mr. Williamson recalled that his work vehicle had a self-contained electrical service on board and the ability to operate power tools. As the guard temporarily left his post to take a break, Mr. Williamson made his move. Quietly, he put the truck in gear and rolled it carefully toward the 10-foot-high metal gate. He then gently lifted the hood to plug in the A/C power to run the electric grinder. He then moved toward the closed door to begin cutting the lock for releasing the restrained workers.

The grinder had barely come to life when Gamez's goon, Guadalupe Grijalva, began charging through the complex yelling at the solar installers. He ordered Mr. Williamson to turn off the metal cutting equipment and lifted a large enough rock to break their heads.

"I didn't want things to get bloody, and we knew we were outnumbered five to one. I'm sure they had other weapons like guns, so I turned off the grinder and returned it to the work vehicle." Mr. Grijalva told the workers they weren't going anywhere and slammed the hood of the vehicle shut.

"It was late in the day and being caught after dark on this ranch would probably mean we would be locked inside a building, maybe in one of the large refrigeration/storage units in the main building. I didn't want to let that happen, so I started screaming. I wanted to be heard before the workers went home for the day," stated Mr. Williamson.

He began shouting and demanding that someone contact the U.S. Embassy and shouting "kidnap," "kidnap," "kidnap," "kidnap" so that the other workers could hear him clearly. Mr. Gamez came back out of his office with a rather angry expression. He told Mr. Williamson to shut up and began pointing his finger at him while yelling at him.

Mr. Williamson then handed his cell phone to Mr. Gamez. "I told him I had called a policeman and wanted to talk to you."

Gamez and the policeman exchanged words for several minutes before handing the phone back to Mr. Williamson and he laughed. Gamez then replied that he couldn't worry about a Hermosillo Metro police officer.

SolarSnap Factory Installation

Mr. Williamson then stated that he had access to the solar inventory stored at the factory. Gamez turned to listen.

Mr. Williamson then convinced Gamez that he would allow them access to the solar inventory on the condition that Gamez could follow his truck. When they arrived he could choose whatever he wanted. Mr. Williamson explained that they had a wide variety of interesting alternative energy equipment and that Mr. Gamez would be quite pleased.

Soon after, his daughter Magda went to get the key and handed it to Guadalupe. The large metal gate that had imprisoned the workers was open and the frightened but relieved workers drove their truck slowly down the dirt road leading to freedom followed closely by Gamez's red truck, which was eager to return home with new solar power gadgets and other alternative energy treasures.

While driving the SolarSnap vehicle, Mr. Williamson made other plans. "We had already lost too much money on this job. Allowing these pirates free access to our factory facilities in the dark without backup sounded like a risky proposition. What if our inventory didn't satisfy them? Would it be if they tried to hijack us again? Would they try to take over our factory?

SolarSanp store in San Benito, Hermosillo

Mr. Williamson called the store, told them to notify the police that they were on their way, and then ordered the store vacated and closed.

"I told them to pull back the steel curtain and for everyone to stay away from the store. I didn't want them to take any more prisoners," Mr. Williamson said.

The team then drove to the store followed by Gamez in his large truck. Mr. Williamson parked in the parking lot of his San Benito store, a neighborhood in Hermosillo, and explained through Gamez's open window that he had to stop there to get the keys to open the factory. This was an effort to detain them and keep them there in prayer that the police would respond to their requests for release. They managed to keep them there for 20 minutes, but the police never arrived.

Mr. Williamson then told Gamez to continue to the factory, but instead they went directly to the Matamoros police station in downtown Hermosillo.

As soon as we arrived at the police station, Gamez got angry. He started cursing at the SolarSnap workers. However, no one would help Mr. Williamson at the Matamoros police station. The Hermosillo police refuse to take a kidnapping report against Gamez.

"Gamez finally left us alone when we refused to leave the police station, but he returned a few days later with two friends and tried to force his way into the Hermosillo store.

"They surrounded the store and cut off the electricity. Again we called the police who finally arrived, but then harassed the store workers, asking for our identification and then refusing to question Gamez. It's a bit messy here in Mexico with the police and people like Gamez. It's not always fair.

"It is my dream to bring electric power to remote villages and towns in Mexico and the United States. Unfortunately, we all feel the crushing boot of those who sell to Americans who buy illegal drugs from Mexico and the social effects this causes. "I wish Americans would really want to do something about the drug trade between the United States and Mexico and stop buying illegal drugs from Mexico," stated Mr. Williamson.

SolarSnap example solar panel installation in Nacozari, Sonora Mexico.

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