Kidnapping victim found dead in Tucson desert had been accused of smuggling

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Fabian Maldonado-Leon By Jennifer Thomas Fabian Maldonado-Leon By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- A kidnapping victim whose body was found this week in a stretch of desert in Pima County had been accused more than two years ago of smuggling nearly 70 pounds of marijuana into southern Arizona from Mexico.

Authorities have declined to say whether the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Fabian Maldonado-Leon was drug-related and wouldn't reveal theories being pursued by investigators. "We are investigating it as a homicide," Pima County Sheriff's spokesman Tracy Suitt said Thursday.

Over the last several years, drug traffickers in Arizona have kidnapped rival traffickers, associates or their family members as a way to collect unpaid debt for lost trafficking loads, make quick money from crews flush with cash or as retaliation for earlier abductions.

Maldonado-Leon's body was discovered early Monday by a passerby near an area with electric power lines in southwestern Pima County. Authorities received a report Sunday night that Maldonado-Leon had been kidnapped from an apartment in Tucson and that his captors were seeking a ransom for his release.

The sheriff's office and Tucson Police Department declined to release other details of the kidnapping, including whether the ransom was paid. No arrests have been made in Maldonado-Leon's death, though investigators have released a description of a suspect from the scene of the kidnapping.

Nearly two years ago, Maldonado-Leon pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.

He was accused of driving a pickup truck carrying marijuana in May 2011 from Mexico into the port of entry in Nogales, Ariz. Authorities found 68 pounds of marijuana concealed in the vehicle's fuel tank. In his plea agreement, Maldonado-Leon admitted that he knew there was marijuana in the truck and that he was going to get paid for delivering the load to another person.

Nathan Leonardo, an attorney who represented Maldonado-Leon in the case, said he recognized his client from a photo in a news account about Maldonado-Leon's kidnapping and death.

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