By Paul Walsh, Star Tribune
An Uber driver rescued a woman seriously wounded from gunfire and left to die by gang members on a dark road near Stillwater, according to charges against the shooter and an accomplice.
Luis Alfredo Cortez Mendoza, 23, of St. Paul, was charged Monday in Washington County District Court with attempted murder and kidnapping in connection with the abduction and shooting last week of the 39-year-old woman from St. Paul, who was hospitalized in critical condition.
Angel Ignacio Sardina-Padilla, 31, of Minneapolis, was charged with aiding and abetting attempted murder and kidnapping.
A manhunt tracked him down late Tuesday afternoon in north Minneapolis, the Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday. Prosecutors believe both are members of the same gang.
Cortez Mendoza is suspected by federal immigration officials of being in the country illegally from his native Mexico, said Nicole Alberico, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The agency has placed a hold on Cortez Mendoza, meaning ICE retains the option to deport him once his state criminal case is resolved. He has been sent back to Mexico four times previously, said Alberico.
Alberico offered no details on Sardina-Padilla’s residency, explaining that “to determine their immigration status, ICE officers must first interview the individual who still has outstanding warrants for this state investigation.”
Sardina-Padilla’s criminal history in Minnesota includes a felony conviction in 2018 for receiving stolen property. Hennepin County court records show that a misdemeanor count of giving police false identification was dismissed as part of the agreement for him to plead guilty to the more serious count.
According to the charges:
The Uber driver told a sheriff’s deputy that he was between passengers about 2:35 a.m. on Arcola Trail in May Township on June 9 when he saw what he thought was a dead animal in the road. As he drove closer on the dirt road, he saw the head lift and realized he was looking at a woman.
He pulled over thinking she was drunk and asked whether she needed help. The woman screamed that she had been shot.
The driver tried to call 911 repeatedly but couldn’t get a cellphone signal. He picked up the woman, put a blanket around her and placed her in the back of his vehicle.
He got through to 911 as he drove toward downtown Stillwater, and law enforcement directed him to park and turn on his hazard lights as a signal to responding officers. A sheriff’s sergeant arrived, removed the woman from the vehicle and saw that she was bleeding heavily from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Several days later, the woman told authorities that she agreed on June 8 to pay $400 to buy a gun from Sardina-Padilla. He and Cortez Mendoza arrived at her home and gave her the gun, but the woman gave them $300 and told them to come back later for the rest.
Soon after, she texted to Sardina-Padilla that the gun was missing. Cortez Mendoza and Sardina-Padilla soon showed up brandishing guns and demanding the rest of their money.
Sardina-Padilla heated a metal tool he found in the home and ordered two other people there to hold it while demanding to know who had the gun. Eventually, Cortez Mendoza and Sardina-Padilla abducted the woman and drove around for hours before Sardina-Padilla left the woman under Cortez Mendoza’s control.
Cortez Mendoza stopped the vehicle on Arcola Trail, ordered the woman to get out and shot her.
Minneapolis police arrested Cortez Mendoza on Saturday while he was driving. He admitted to police that he and Sardina-Padilla are Sureños 13 gang members, and he said he feared he would be killed if he didn’t shoot the woman.
He said he gave the gun he used back to Sardina-Padilla and had the car painted black at Sardina-Padilla’s direction. Cortez Mendoza was branded by gang members with a tattoo of “13.”
Cortez Mendoza appeared in court Monday and remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail. A message was left with his attorney Tuesday seeking a response to the allegations.