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Three charged in fake kidnapping

March 01, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A fake kidnapping plot resulted in the arrests Monday of three people in Berkeley County who allegedly tried to extort money from the mother of one of them, police said.

Erica Bennett, 23, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., was charged by officers with the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force in an alleged conspiracy with two men, Maurice Darnell Powell, 51, of Martinsburg, and Sydney Errol Smith, Jr., 39, of Reisterstown, Md.

The trio tried to extort money from the woman's mother, demanding $20,000 for her safe return, according to police.

Powell and Bennett were being held Tuesday night at Eastern Regional Jail on $200,000 bail. Smith was being held on $204,340 bail.

All three were arraigned Tuesday in Berkeley County Magistrate Court.

Smith allegedly led a West Virginia State Trooper on a high-speed chase Monday afternoon in southern Berkeley County before being captured after abandoning his car after an accident on Interstate 81. In addition to the charge of conspiracy to commit extortion, he was also charged with numerous misdemeanor traffic violations, including fleeing from police in a vehicle and on foot, speeding, failure to stop at a red light, improper passing and reckless driving. He also was charged with failure to use his turn signal and leaving the scene of an accident.

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According to police, the woman's mother phoned task force officers Monday to report that she had received a call from her daughter, who indicated she was being held against her will by a group of men after incurring a debt because of a drug habit.

Officers, who placed a series of phone calls to a Martinsburg phone number used by the woman's daughter to call her mother, were later told by Bennett during an interview that she had been kidnapped by Smith and another man, records state.

That man, who has not been charged in the incident, later told police he had been provided with a script of what to say by Smith and Bennett, according to police.

According to police who monitored the transaction, Bennett participated in the kidnapping ruse and remained behind with her mother after an exchange of money between Bennett's mother and Powell.

Smith, who was also present during the cash handover, later confessed to enlisting Powell and the other man in the effort to extort money, police said.

If convicted on the charge of conspiracy to commit extortion, all three could face from one to five years in state prison. Smith also faces fines, and additional jail time for the traffic violations.

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