WAKE FOREST, N.C. — A North Carolina prison inmate used a smuggled mobile phone to keep in touch with kidnappers holding the father of a prosecutor who helped send him away for life, federal authorities said.
Five people were arrested and Frank Arthur Janssen, a Wake Forest man whose daughter prosecutes violent crimes, was rescued late Wednesday following a raid by the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team on an Atlanta apartment.
During the abduction, the kidnappers took a picture of Janssen tied up in a chair and sent it to his wife, threatening to torture and dismember him if she went to police, the FBI said in court documents.
Janssen’s kidnapping was related to his daughter’s prosecution of Kelvin Melton, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the shooting of a man in 2011, said John Strong, the FBI’s agent in charge for North Carolina.
Authorities say Melton, 49, had a mobile phone in his cell at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, exchanging at least 123 calls and text messages with the alleged kidnappers in the past week. Authorities closed in on the suspects by tracking their mobile phones and listening to their calls.
According to testimony from his 2012 trial, Melton is a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang from New York City who ordered a 21-year-old subordinate to travel to Raleigh and kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Court records show Melton has a long record of felony convictions in New York, the first being a 1979 robbery committed when he was 14.
The admitted triggerman, Jamil Herring Gressett, testified that he followed Melton’s orders for fear he or his loved ones would be killed if he didn’t. The victim survived a gunshot wound.
The prosecutor in the case was Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen.
In a handwritten 2012 letter in the court file, Melton protested that the prosecutor had not followed proper legal procedure, citing a specific state statute.
“Prosecutor must file accuser affidavit with clerk of court ‘prior’ to seeking an indictment, this affidavit must be on file, mandatory!” Melton wrote. “The accused indictment is not legal and is rendered in-valid.”
Melton’s amateur lawyering didn’t work. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and being a habitual felon, resulting in a life sentence.
According to the FBI, a woman knocked on Frank Janssen’s door Saturday at his Wake Forest home in a quiet, upscale, golf course subdivision. Several people assaulted him and someone used a stun gun. He was then driven to Atlanta.
On Monday, his wife, Christie, started receiving a series of text messages from a mobile phone in Georgia. One of the texts said if law enforcement was contacted, “we will send (Mr. Janssen) back to you in 6 boxes and every chance we get we will take someone in your family to Italy and torture them and kill them ... we will do drive by and gun down anybody.”
The messages made specific demands for the benefit of Melton, according to the FBI. Those demands were not spelled out in the court filings and authorities did not answer questions at a news conference Thursday.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press that the kidnapping was an act of retaliation and that the communications of those involved suggested a link to the Bloods. The official had been briefed on the investigation.
At 12:19 a.m. Wednesday, Janssen’s wife received a text photograph of him tied up in a chair along with a message: “Tomorrow we call you again an if you can not tell me where my things are at tomorrow i will start torchering.”
At 8:20 p.m., the FBI says a call was placed by Melton from the prison to a phone associated with the kidnappers in Atlanta. The two male callers appear to be discussing how to dispose of a body:
“The first spot we are checking out is close to the house.”
“We want to make sure it’s in a secluded area and the ground is soft so we can go 3 feet deep.”
“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.”
Following the call, authorities tried to enter Melton’s cell and he temporarily barred the door and smashed the phone. A few hours later, they located Janssen in Atlanta at the Forest Cove Apartments.
Charged with kidnapping were: Jenna Paulin Martin; Tiana Maynard; Jevante “Flame” Price; Michael “Hot” Montreal Gooden and Clifton James Roberts. Authorities also recovered a .45-caliber handgun, picks and a shovel, according to the FBI.
Those arrested appeared Thursday before a federal magistrate judge in Atlanta. They are due back in court for a bond hearing Tuesday, when they will each have a lawyer appointed by the judge.
According to prison records, Melton is being held on “maximum control” status after racking up several infractions over the past year, including being cited for possessing a weapon and twice for having a mobile phone.
In 2013, 747 mobile phones were confiscated from inmates in North Carolina’s prisons. So far this year, 166 have been seized.
Officials at the state Department of Public Safety concede many are smuggled in by prison employees bribed by inmates or their relatives. They are now investigating how Melton got the phone he allegedly used to help orchestrate the kidnapping of his prosecutor’s father.
“The department is deeply concerned about any corrupting influence by inmates against Adult Correction employees and will aggressively investigate and take action against offenders and staff involved in using cellphones to conduct criminal activity from inside prison walls,” Secretary Frank L. Perry said. “It will continue its ongoing efforts with increased intensity toward stopping contraband from entering any of its facilities.”