Skip to main content /US /US

Missing doctor's abduction was a hoax, officials say


PHOENIX, Arizona (CNN) -- The alleged kidnapping of an Arizona doctor who was found trapped in the trunk of his car in San Diego turned out to be a hoax apparently staged to avoid a court appearance, the Maricopa County sheriff said Friday.

Dr. Mark Salerno, a pediatrician who runs his own practice in Scottsdale, Arizona, had been missing for three days when a passerby in San Diego's Balboa Park heard him pounding from the trunk of his Toyota Camry sedan Thursday. The passerby called police and fire officials, who had to use the "jaws of life" to pry open the trunk and free Salerno before taking him to the hospital.

Salerno, whose ankles were bound with duct tape when he was pulled from the car, told police there that three or four men had kidnapped him and locked him in the trunk. Footage of Salerno's rescue was shown on television.

The scam was exposed, police said, when a TV viewer watched the evening news and remembered having seen Salerno crawl into the trunk and close the lid himself. The witness called police, who then confronted Salerno, at which point he confessed to staging the crime.

"I'm not very happy when I have to put resources on a phony case," said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who sent detectives and a helicopter to San Diego to investigate the alleged kidnapping.

"I am going to send him a bill. I'm not going to let him get away with this," he said.

"I think I'm going to send him a nice little bill," said Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  

Salerno was scheduled to arrive in Phoenix from San Diego Friday night, where he would be booked into the county jail on a felony warrant for failing to appear in court for auto theft.

He was arrested two weeks ago, driving a stolen car with a stolen license plate. The car had belonged to a woman who worked in Salerno's medical office, who had reported it stolen from the office parking lot a year and a half earlier.

The license plate was stolen from another car nearby his office the day of his arrest.

"He told our detectives that he had financial problems," Arpaio said. "We're still looking into his background."

As for the bound ankles, Arpaio said that was an apparent effort at showing he had been kidnapped.

"I'm angry," the sheriff said. "I think I'm going to send him a nice little bill."

Salerno will be placed on suicide watch because he told authorities he had stopped at the Hoover Dam on his way to California and considered throwing himself off. When rescued, doctors found Salerno had taken unspecified barbiturates, which had put him to sleep for about five hours, Arpaio said.




Back to the top