A California man allegedly faked his own kidnapping earlier this week in a plot to con $300 out of his mother, PEOPLE confirms.
According to police in Santa Ana, California, the mother of 31-year-old Robert Nunez allegedly received a text from her son’s phone on Monday claiming he’d been kidnapped.
The text allegedly asked her to drop off $300 at a location, threatening that Nunez would be killed if she didn’t comply, police spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna tells PEOPLE.
The alleged text was accompanied by photos of a knife and a saw, Bertagna says.
Nunez’s mom had already received a troubling message about her son, police say: The previous day, she got a text saying, “Your son is dead,” according to Bertagna.
Nunez’s mother contacted police on Sunday, who investigated the case as a kidnapping.
Bertagna says that on Monday — the same day Nunez’s mom got the text claiming a kidnapping — police traced the phone that sent the messages and then made a traffic stop in neighboring Anaheim, California.
There they discovered Nunez was in a car being driven by another man, Bertagna says.
Nunez allegedly “made incriminating statements” that led investigators to believe he’d sent the texts to his mother, Bertagna says, adding that police do not believe the driver of the car was involved.
According to Bertagna, the investigation into Nunez’s alleged kidnapping pulled critical police resources away from three murders in the preceding week.
“These guys [the investigators] are busy — they had to drop everything they’re doing to make this a priority case,” he says.
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According to Bertagna, Nunez has a substance abuse problem, and his mother had been trying to take care of him by providing food and clothes without giving him money.
Bertagna says his department is raising awareness about the Nunez case because they have seen three similar cases — of a person allegedly faking their kidnapping to extort money — in the past month.
“We’re finding it’s not just here, it’s with other police departments as well,” he says, adding that the alleged scheme “is new for us.”
Nunez has been charged with attempted extortion, a felony, and remains in jail on $50,000 bail, Bertagna says.
During a court appearance yesterday, Nunez entered a not guilty plea. Information about his attorney was not immediately available.