Kidnap plot suspect's son doubts charges

San Diego Union-Tribune/May 14, 2005
By Onell R. Soto

The son of an Oceanside man accused of hatching a thwarted plot to kidnap and torture an Oregon man to extract financial information said yesterday that he can't believe the charges.

"My sister and I are 100 percent supportive of him," Russell Calder said of his father, William Calder. "He's a very ethical investigator; he's devoted a long career to helping others."

Calder filed a federal lawsuit in 2000 accusing an Illinois company of defrauding investors, but the case was dropped after he and his co-plaintiff failed to pursue it.

One of the men he sued was later convicted of fraud in Fresno and awaits sentencing.

In court papers, Calder said he has looked into numerous fraud cases dating back to 1985 as the proprietor of Revenue and Fugitive Recovery Services. Further information on his company was unavailable.

He is a former manager of the Playgirl Club, a now-closed Oceanside strip club, and was once convicted of misdemeanor battery involving the eviction of a dancer. The conviction was overturned on appeal.

Sacramento sheriff's deputies say Calder conceived a plot to kidnap and torture an Oregon man to recover millions of dollars lost by members of a San Diego-based group called Miracle of Love.

Repeated efforts yesterday to contact the group for comment were unsuccessful.

Investigators said the goal of the plot was to get a laptop containing overseas account numbers and personal identification numbers.

Deputies said they seized a letter to the Oregon man in which Calder said he represented 19 members of the group who had lost money after giving it to him to invest.

Investigators said Calder hired Kevin Westman, 41, of the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights to kidnap the man April 22 as he stopped in the state capital on his way to visit his daughter in San Diego.

Tipped off by a third man, deputies arrested Westman on April 21 and Calder the following day. The two men remain in a Sacramento jail in lieu of $1 million bail each. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Sacramento deputies identified Calder as a private investigator, but Calder is not licensed to work as one in California.

Calder's son, a Carlsbad resident, said he only learned the details of the charges against his father through a newspaper story yesterday.

"He's worked on other cases, and he's helped people retrieve money that's been stolen from them," Russell Calder said. "It would appear he was helping innocent victims who were ripped off (for) millions of dollars."

A woman who said William Calder helped her husband escape a cult five years ago also was surprised by the charges.

"I think it's a setup," said Robin Gordon of Encinitas. "He helped in all sorts of ways, and nothing he did was ever illegal. . . . He's not a vicious type of a person."

Miracle of Love's Web site said it offers a "safe and structured environment where you can express yourself in ways you never imagined."

The head of an organization that collects information on cults and similar groups said he has received reports about Miracle of Love.

Its members isolate themselves from their families, give up valuable assets and become involved in sex, said Rick Ross, an expert on cults.

"To say the least, it's a very controversial group," Ross said.

A Marin County lawyer said members of the group have been fraud victims before. In an apparently unrelated case, three members of the group are going after a member from Hawaii with whom they invested and lost money, said Roy Chernus, head of Legal Aid of Marin County.

"We were unable to tie a direct connection between these investments and Miracle of Love," Chernus said. "It looked to us that this was more of an affinity fraud," in which con artists target vulnerable members of social or religious organizations.

Sacramento sheriff's spokesman R.L. Davis had little information on Miracle of Love.

"We are not investigating that group," he said.

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