Southern California boxing trainer Manny Robles says he has survived a harrowing hostage situation in Tijuana. In a bizarre episode seemingly out of a movie script, Robles believes organized crime in that border town targeted him for extortion and “virtually” kidnapped him through instructions on a prepaid cell phone.
He claims he was stranded in a hotel for eight hours Friday not knowing if he was going to live or die, or if his family back in California was safe.
Robles was in Tijuana working with Adan Mares, the younger brother of three-division bletholder Abner Mares, at a private gym. Adan does not have a green card, says Robles, so he has to train in Mexico. Robles is also training undefeated junior lightweight contender Will Tomlinson, an Australian fighter.
Robles was scheduled to return to Los Angeles Friday for a meeting with Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Eric Gomez concerning Tomlinson, but Robles never made it.
His story begins at around 6:00 a.m. Robles says he got a call from the reception desk at the Baja Inn.
“That’s when my nightmare started. I was told they were with a cartel, but had reason to believe I was working for another cartel in the area. They said they had the hotel surrounded and I was being watched. They said, if you are who you say you are, we will let you go. But you must follow instructions,” says Robles. “I was first instructed to wake up my fighters and bring them with me. Then they changed their mind and told me to come alone.”
Robles states he followed instructions and left the hotel immediately. He was told to go to the Oxxo convenience store and pick up a prepaid cell phone. He did not know how to activate the phone, but the callers stayed on his personal cell phone with him until he figured it out. He was then told to never, ever hang up the prepaid phone.
He then was instructed to go to another hotel. He chose the Real Inn. He checked in and went to his room where the ordeal got worse.
For hours he was interrogated about his personal life, his occupation, and was forced to give out personal information concerning his family in Paramount, CA. Robles wife was contacted, as were other family members, and he says the demand was for $150,000 for the safe return of Robles.
However, back in Tijuana, Robles indicates he was told the by alleged extortionists they did not want money. He was not aware they had contacted his family. He was told they just wanted to make sure he was “who he said he was” and was not working with another cartel. They told him, “Don’t do anything stupid or you will die.” He was told his fighters were in danger if he did not follow instructions. Robles says he later found out this was not true. The fighters were never directly threatened, but Robles had no way of knowing.
“They were very professional,” he says. “They were like f___ing cops. I heard noise in the background. Like a movie. Several people talking to me, I heard walkie-talkies, and I kept saying , this s__t is for real!”
He finally figured Facebook might be an available outlet. “I took a chance. I took a gamble.”
He posted, “Please help. Held hostage Real Inn Tijuana Blvd. Agua Caliente #11451 col hipodromo.”
At first, friends and family did not know if it was authentic. One of his friends wrote back on Facebook and asked Robles the name of his daughter as proof it was really him.
Once folks started to figure out this was serious they began trying to figure out a way to rescue Robles. But, his wife, Sandra, had already swung into action. She had called 911. The FBI got involved. Robles says the FBI has contacts with the Mexican Federales.
After about eight hours, Robles estimates, at least 20 Federales arrived at the hotel and told him to turn off the prepaid phone.
He was escorted to the Tijuana police station where he was told he should file a report. But the nightmare didn’t end there.
He says the police informed him there was a warrant out for his arrest. Now he is even more panicked, thinking he’s going to jail.
He doesn’t remember how long it took. “It seemed like forever.” But eventually he was told the police had done some “research” and he was clean. He was free to leave. No report was ever taken.
But, when he left, he had no police protection. He was on his own. He went back to his original hotel where the manager said he was sorry. Robles replied, “Sorry my ass.”
He gathered his belongings, his passport, and got in his car and drove back to San Diego. He was looking over his shoulder the entire way.
When asked if will go back to Mexico, since so much of his business requires his presence there, Robles says, “I can’t say I’m not going, but then again I can’t go again under these circumstances. The bottom line is, you have to be careful down there.”
The question is, how can one be careful when something like this could happen, and there is no warning?
“I believe they were watching me for weeks. I believe they were watching me when the Federales showed up, and I believe they were watching when I was at the police station. It is very corrupt there,”
He wants his story to be told in the hopes that others will not succumb to the same fate.
“We want this story to get out there. Be careful,” says Robles.