Then they pounced on the man, gagged and bound him with brown packing tape and threw him in the trunk of their silver Audi. They held him for four days, semi-naked in the cellar of a lake house nearly 300 miles away, alternately beating him and demanding $1.4 million in ransom.
What sounds like the plot of an action movie was in fact the work of two retired German couples and an accomplice who kidnapped the American financial adviser they blamed for investments that turned sour last summer. It's one of the most bizarre cases of revenge during the global economic downturn.
On Tuesday, a German court found the retirees, aged 61 to 80, guilty of kidnapping and aggravated assault in what the judge called a "spectacular case of individuals taking justice into their own hands." Four of the five defendants had pleaded guilty.
The 74-year-old ringleader was sentenced to six years in prison. Others received suspended sentences ranging from 18 to 21 months.
All of them are affluent retirees, with vacation homes and expensive cars. One of the couples are retired doctors, aged 63 and 66.
The case started in the late 1990s, when the couples began investing their money with James Amburn, now 57, who was involved in booming real estate projects in Florida. They received 12 percent interest each year for four years in a row, according to court documents.
But in 2005, Amburn's investments began to fall apart amid the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. It soon became impossible for him to match those high-interest returns, German media reported.
The four retirees teamed up with another man who used to work for Amburn and said the financial adviser owed him nearly $700,000. Together they hatched a plan to kidnap Amburn from his home in the southern German city of Speyer last June, imprison him in their vacation home on a lake in Bavaria and try to force him to withdraw money to recoup their losses. But they didn't know that his accounts were empty.
After four days of captivity, Amburn managed to issue a coded plea for help in a fax he sent to his bank: "Sell 100 Call Pol.ICE" He was freed within hours.
At trial, Amburn described his ordeal, recalling that he feared for his life. "I did not know whether I would survive," he said.
While bound and gagged in the trunk of the car, Amburn managed to grab a crowbar and bang on the sides of the compartment. One of the defendants then stopped the car, got out and beat Amburn with the bar, blaming him for making noise and damaging his silver Audi. Two of Amburn's ribs were broken.
The financial adviser also testified that while being kept in the cellar of the retirees' lake house, they sometimes brought him upstairs for interrogation. "I thought they were going to take me out into the woods and shoot me," he said.
At one point he escaped, leaping over a garden wall and running down the quiet lane screaming for help. But his kidnappers pursued him and told their neighbors he was a burglar, not a prisoner. Neighbors believed them, and helped nab Amburn and returned him to the retirees.
Three of the elderly defendants, along with Amburn's former employee, all pleaded guilty during their trial and were convicted and sentenced Tuesday in a Bavarian court. The fourth retiree is ill and couldn't take part in the proceedings.
Under German privacy laws, the defendants' full names weren't released.