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FBI investigates possible kidnap for ransom

  • Story Highlights
  • Robert Arthur Wiles, 26, of Lakeland, Florida, reported missing April 1, FBI says
  • Wiles' parents "were sent a ransom note," FBI says; "A threat was made"
  • Note signed in a "unique" way, the motive remains a mystery, investigator says
  • The agency says it investigated 161 kidnappings in the nation last year
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From Susan Candiotti
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The FBI is investigating the alleged kidnapping for ransom of a 26-year-old Florida private pilot who has been missing since April 1, a spokesman said Friday.

The bureau identified the man as Robert Arthur Wiles of Lakeland, Florida. He runs his family's aircraft maintenance business, National Flight Services, at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

Wiles' parents suspected something was wrong when they couldn't reach their son, whom they had visited a few days before he was reported missing, said Dave Couvertier, spokesman for the FBI in Tampa, Florida.

"They were sent a ransom note," he said. "A threat was made. His parents were told to follow directions, but they heard nothing back."

The bureau won't elaborate on exactly what the note said or how much money was demanded -- only that the note was signed in a "unique" way, Couvertier said. It is not clear why Wiles would have been targeted, he said.

Agents believe that revealing specifics might compromise the investigation, he said.

Couvertier said that although the bureau has no evidence to indicate that the kidnapping could have been staged, "we're exploring every lead, every possibility." But, he added, "We're treating this as the real thing."

Investigators won't explain why they waited so long to go public with the case except to say the parents hope that talking about it now might generate new leads, he said.

"The parents are offering a reward. They hope someone will be able to help them and come forward with information," he said.

At an FBI-organized news conference Friday afternoon in Tampa, the parents announced that they are offering $10,000 to anyone who can provide more information.

"Our son knows how to reach us; he has our phone numbers," they said. "The only thing that matters to us is that our son comes home safely."

The bureau has followed leads involving Robert Wiles' "activities and associations" in several Florida cities as well in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, he said. One friend was contacted in Thailand.

Kidnappings for ransom in the United States are considered rare, especially of adults.

The agency says it investigated 161 kidnappings in the nation last year involving custody disputes, cults, drug rip-offs and sexual assaults.

National Flight Services has locations in Florida, Texas, Ohio -- where its headquarters are -- and in Toronto, Canada. A company Web site lists the owner as Thomas Wiles. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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