FBI: Inmate was mastermind behind Wake Forest man's kidnap plot
Posted April 10
Updated April 11
Wake Forest, N.C. — A convicted felon at the center of the abduction of a Wake County prosecutor's father orchestrated the "elaborate kidnapping plot" via text messages from prison, according to federal investigators.
John Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina, told reporters at a news conference Thursday that "a group of very dangerous people" targeted Frank Janssen, 63, and sent specific demands to his family for the benefit of a man named Kelvin Melton, who is serving life in a state prison in Butner.
Strong said Melton was prosecuted by Frank Janssen's daughter, Colleen Janssen, a litigator with the Wake County District Attorney's Office.
The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team rescued Janssen just before midnight Wednesday – five days after he was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home – at an apartment complex in southeast Atlanta.
Five people – Jenna Paulin Martin, 21, Tiana Maynard, 20, Jevante Price, 20, Michael Montreal Gooden, 21, and Clifton James Roberts, 29 – face federal kidnapping charges, which carry maximum prison sentences of life without parole.
Strong declined to comment on a motive for the crime or to give any other specifics, saying the case is still under investigation.
"I'm honored and humbled to say Frank Janssen is safe and back with his family today," Strong said. "We can only imagine the uncertainty, confusion and fear he experienced."
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Melton, 49, was convicted Oct. 17, 2012, on charges of being a violent habitual felon and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.
Details about the case – stemming from a Sept. 14, 2011, arrest – weren't clear. Court records show that Melton also had several other charges, including attempted first-degree murder. A jury, however, found him not guilty of the offenses.
Also unclear were the circumstances behind the habitual felon charge.
According to DPS, Melton is under high security at Polk Correctional Institution, where he has had six infractions including weapon possession, lock tampering and possession of a cellphone.
Investigators linked threatening text messages sent to Janssen's family to a cellphone Melton was using.
Federal criminal complaints allege that he was texting the kidnapping suspects about the crime, including how to kill Janssen.
Investigators also monitored a phone conversation from that cellphone to one of the suspects in custody. A person was heard saying, "Get a bag, put it over his head and stuff something in his mouth.
"Make sure to clean the area up. Don't leave anything. Don't leave any DNA behind. ... Let's do it in the wee hours of the morning," the person said.
Melton also tried to keep authorities from getting the phone by blocking them from entering his cell and then trying to smash the device.
Documents provide dramatic new details
Although Strong declined to discuss any case specifics, the federal complaints lay out a narrative that reads like a TV crime drama.
The documents say a woman knocked on Janssen's door Saturday, after he returned home from a bike ride, and that several other people forced their way into his home, used a stun gun on him and forced him into a car.
Police say his wife later returned home from shopping and noticed what appeared to be blood outside the home.
According to the criminal complaints, she started receiving texts Monday from a number that was not Melton's informing her that Janssen was in the trunk of a car headed to California.
The messages went on to say that, if she contacted police, Janssen would be sent back to the family in six boxes and that other family members would be also be kidnapped and tortured.
Janssen's wife also received a text message with a photo of her husband tied up and seated in a chair, the criminal complaints say.
At 11:55 p.m. Wednesday, the FBI rescued Janssen after monitoring cellphone calls and texts discussing how to kill him and where to put his body.
NC Public Safety 'deeply concerned'
It's unclear how Melton might have had access to a cellphone.
Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry said in a statement that he couldn't comment about the investigation but that his department "is deeply concerned" and "will aggressively investigate and take action against offenders and staff involved in using cellphones to conduct criminal activity from inside prison walls."
Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker said Thursday evening that no prison employees, to her knowledge, had been charged or disciplined regarding the Janssen case.
Cellphone possession by an inmate became a crime in the state in 2009, and since then, prisons have been deploying new technology to better detect the devices, the DPS said.
Last year, detention officers confiscated 747 devices. So far this year, that number has reached 166.
Meanwhile Thursday, the five people charged in the case each made their first appearances in federal court, where they were appointed an attorney.
A bond hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, and a probable cause hearing is set for April 23 in Atlanta, unless they are indicted by a grand jury before then. At that point, they would be transferred to North Carolina.
All of them live in the Atlanta area.
A search of court records in a national database turned up very little regarding the suspects. Roberts faced several drug charges stemming from a November 2006 arrest in Atlanta, but it wasn't clear Thursday if he was ever convicted of them.
Janssen family asks for privacy
Strong said Thursday that Janssen was in good physical condition but was taken to an Atlanta hospital Wednesday night for treatment. By Thursday morning, though, he had been reunited with his family. They have asked for privacy and for time to heal from the ordeal.
Acting Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum said the news of the rescue was like a weight being lifted off the shoulders of everyone his office, where Colleen Janssen works as a gang and drug crimes prosecutor.
"The mood in our office today went from being grim all week to just being overjoyed," Mangum said. "I have to say about my staff that they were able to work professionally and remain quiet as they had to do to protect this investigation at critical points."
There was also relief in the Heritage subdivision in Wake Forest, where Frank Janssen's neighbors said they waited and worried for the past five days for his safety – as well as their own.
"It's been so long, I didn't think they'd find him alive, but I'm very happy they did," Pete Gallo said. "I've been praying for him every night."