Weather Updates

Woman testifies that she helped in kidnapping of her grandmother

Glenn Lewellen covers his face as he leaves Dirksen Federal Building Monday November 21 2011. Lewellen is accused being inside

Glenn Lewellen covers his face as he leaves the Dirksen Federal Building Monday November 21, 2011. Lewellen is accused of being the inside man for a brutal drug dealer. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

storyidforme: 21651551
tmspicid: 8142163
fileheaderid: 3664240

Updated: December 23, 2011 8:20AM

A South Side woman in her late 60s was kidnapped for a ransom after her granddaughter told a drug kingpin the woman might have hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings from a bar she owned.

That’s according to testimony of the victim, Maria Saldivar, and her granddaughter in a federal drug conspiracy case Monday.

“They said, ‘If you call the police, we will kill you,’ ” Saldivar said of her captors. “I was alive, but it was like I was dead.”

Saul Rodriguez, the kingpin accused of organizing the kidnapping, has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against six codefendants now standing trial.

Three of them — brothers Hector, Jorge and Manuel Uriarte — allegedly carried out the kidnapping, although Saldivar said she couldn’t remember the faces of her abductors.

Another defendant, former Chicago Police Officer Glenn Lewellen, isn’t accused of taking part in Saldivar’s kidnapping. But prosecutors allege he used his badge to participate in other abductions, robberies, drug deals and cover-ups of crimes.

With the help of a Spanish translator, Saldivar testified she was kidnapped on Jan. 23, 2003, outside her bar at 47th and Sacramento.

On a previous occasion, she had avoided being abducted when she honked her horn, and her assailants fled.

But she wasn’t so lucky this time. Her kidnappers snatched her out of an alley while she was taking out her garbage. They tied her hands and feet with duct tape, gagged her mouth, threw a hood over her head and drove her into a garage.

Saldivar said she was held in the van overnight, soiling herself because her kidnappers wouldn’t let her use the bathroom.

She didn’t know it at the time, but her own granddaughter, Lisette Venegas, was part of the alleged kidnapping scheme.

Venegas testified under a federal grant of immunity that she told Rodriguez her grandmother might have $400,000 to $600,000 socked away in savings from the bar she started in the early 1980s.

Venegas, who had worked for Rodriguez as a drug and money courier, said she agreed with his suggestion to kidnap her grandmother. The kidnappers originally demanded $2 million in ransom, but settled for less than $300,000.

Venegas said she received $40,000 from Rodriguez for her role in the scheme.

Saldivar said her body was quaking in fear during her ordeal. She said her kidnappers had threatened to kill her if her family couldn’t come up with the ransom.

Once it was collected, Saldivar’s kidnappers let her go. They ripped the tape from her face, peeling off her eyebrows and even the skin from her lips. But they left the hood on her head, Saldivar said.

Venegas, now a Burbank paramedic, testified she picked up her grandmother at a South Side church, brought her home and gave her a bath.

“My grandmother, she had only one shoe on,” Venegas said. “She was pretty distraught, pretty dirty.”

Asked whether she ever told her grandmother she was involved in the kidnapping, Venegas said flatly, “no.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.