A man police thought might be a co-conspirator in last year’s bizarre “house of horrors” kidnapping case was sentenced Wednesday to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to federal gun charges Jan. 27.
Eric de Jesus Mendoza Martinez, a 20-year-old Mexican national, was caught with a handgun after being pulled over by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies in Terrytown on Nov. 7.
That was the day after a 36-year-old woman escaped from a house in New Orleans that had been rigged with a two-way mirror and trap door. She said she was taken there by a co-worker who had become obsessed with her.
The woman, a native of Guatemala who was never publicly identified, told authorities that her co-worker, a 57-year-old Cuban refugee named Mario Perez, had help from another man who told her he had a gun at her back when they kidnapped her Nov. 6.
She said she couldn’t identify the man because she had been blindfolded right after stepping outside her apartment in Kenner and being forced into a car at gunpoint.
Mendoza was driving Perez’s vehicle when he was stopped with a gun the next day by Jefferson deputies.
Police suspect the weapon Mendoza was carrying — a .380-caliber Taurus semi-automatic pistol — might have been the gun used in the abduction, but they haven’t been able to prove that, Kenner Police Department spokesman Lt. Brian McGregor said Wednesday.
Kenner police interviewed Mendoza as Perez’s possible accomplice, but Mendoza did not make any statements connecting him to the crime, and the victim never got a look at the second kidnapper, McGregor said.
According to federal court documents, Mendoza was carrying the gun in his front pocket when he was pulled over for a traffic violation. Deputies confiscated the weapon and let Mendoza go, though he was questioned by U.S. immigration agents two days later at his home in New Orleans.
There, Mendoza admitted to having the gun and being in the country illegally, and he was taken into federal custody.
After Mendoza completes his sentence in September, the federal government will begin deportation proceedings against him; it’s not clear how long that process could take.
The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether Mendoza might play a role in the case against Perez, as a witness or otherwise, should it go to trial.
McGregor said he anticipated authorities would have access to Mendoza if they need him.
The abduction grabbed headlines after details came out about the house in Mid-City where Perez is accused of taking the victim — dubbed by police investigators as a “house of horrors.”
Investigators said it was outfitted with a two-way mirror, peepholes and a large hole in the floor under a bed. The woman told police that when she got the blindfold off, she was facing a poster-size photo of herself framed on the wall. She eventually fled the building, leaving her purse, wallet and cellphone behind.
Perez’s brother told The New Orleans Advocate that police had overstated some of the house’s oddities, perhaps confusing an unfinished closet with a secret door, although he acknowledged that Perez has a history of mental health issues.
Perez was previously convicted of kidnapping and attempted murder in New Jersey and had been accused of attempted murder before in Kenner, but after spending some time in a mental institution, he pleaded guilty only to being a felon with a weapon.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder. Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas, @RVargasAdvocate.