What began as a Hilliard police investigation into a kidnapping attempt outside Hilliard’s Grayson Apartments in late 2019 led to a July 30 indictment by a federal grand jury.

The grand jury indicted five people for conspiring and attempting to kidnap a couple on two attempts in November and December 2019.

“The outcome of this case could have been very tragic without the exhaustive initial investigation by our detectives and the ongoing and thorough collaboration with federal agencies,” Hilliard Division of Police Chief Robert Fisher said.

The male victim’s former girlfriend and four others conspired to kidnap him and his girlfriend, according to the indictment that was filed in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

Denia I. Avila, 37, of Columbus and four alleged co-conspirators were indicted for impersonating federal law-enforcement officers and using an electroshock weapon while attempting to kidnap the victims.

The four others charged are Jessica E. Wise, 38, of Columbus; Ellis L. Ray, II, 19, of Canal Winchester; Michael K. Ousley, 43, of Columbus; and Jerry E. McCallister Jr., 27, of Columbus.

Conspiracy to commit kidnapping is a federal crime punishable by up to life in prison. Attempted kidnapping is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Conspiring to impersonate an officer of the United States carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.

All but Ousley have been released on bond, according to Jennifer Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ousley had a detention hearing in federal court scheduled Aug. 4 before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers, according to Thornton.

Ousley remained in custody at the Franklin County jail as of July 30.

According to court documents, the alleged co-conspirators attempted to kidnap the man and his girlfriend Nov. 25, 2019, and Dec. 4, 2019, near their residence.

An affidavit details that during the first attempt, two males wearing all black with black face masks approached the couple as they entered a vehicle about 5:30 a.m.

The two used an electroshock weapon on the man’s neck and attempted to remove him from his vehicle. The woman screamed, and the man was able to push the attacker back, causing both men to flee on foot, according to the affidavit.

In the second incident, which also was before 5:30 a.m., the woman attempted to leave their residence in the man’s vehicle but was blocked by a vehicle belonging to one of the suspects.

It is alleged that two males – wearing black jackets with “police” jacket patches and holding a photograph of the male victim – approached the truck, yelling, “Police, open the door.” They attempted to open the truck door, but the woman began honking her horn and drove over a curb to escape the area.

Detectives discovered two videos in which, they said, Avila and Wise can be heard discussing plans for kidnapping and injuring the victims. Throughout the videos, the two women allegedly discuss disposing of the victims’ vehicles, locking the man in a hotel room, leaving the woman beaten in a remote location and various ways to evade law enforcement.

In the videos, Avila allegedly said she knows the victims would be too fearful to go to the authorities because she helped smuggle the man back into the United States after he was deported and that he was in the U.S. illegally.

According to the affidavit, receipts show the alleged co-conspirators also purchased “immigration” patches, and Avila’s work cellphone had a screenshot on “how ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) makes arrests” and searches, including “ICE Federal Agent Halloween Costume.”

“In what some might think is a plot line for a movie, these individuals allegedly devised an elaborate scheme involving the impersonation of federal law-enforcement agents to kidnap someone,” Vance Callender, HSI special agent in charge for Michigan and Ohio, said in a news release.

Multiple attempts by the suspects to commit the crime aided in the investigation, according to the federal investigators.

“Not only did the alleged perpetrators try and fail to kidnap the victim, they tried a second time and failed. The suspects left a wide trail of evidence that agents and detectives were able to collect, follow and use to arrest multiple co-conspirators,” Keith Barwick, ICE Office of Professional Responsibility special agent in charge, said in a news release.

The five defendants were charged by criminal complaint July 15.

The Hilliard Division of Police began the investigation that became a federal investigation, said police spokeswoman Andrea Litchfield.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo