NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Two groups of New Yorkers recently returned home from Mexico with vacation horror stories.
After heading to Cancun for sun, sand and non-stop partying, some visitors found shakedowns and threats instead. One man even told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello that he was threatened with death.
“They shook us down for money, got what they wanted, or they were gonna kill us,” he said.
The victims include a group of young men from Yonkers and a retired cop from Staten Island. They were shaken down by police in Cancun.
Johnny Lennon has a scar from a night in March when he said he and his friends were attacked in a cab on their way home from a club.
“Started banging on the windows, banging on the hood, saying ‘welcome to Mexico,'” he said.
Lennon made it to a local hospital. His friends were held at gunpoint by police for several hours after the incident. They had to arrange for $4,000 to be wired to them by their parents in order to secure their release.
“‘It’s important you pay.’ Those were the words they kept telling us. They just wanted the money from us. They’d let us go. We’d be okay,” said a man who would only identify himself as “Joe.”
The U.S. State Department warns travelers that police corruption and involvement in criminal activity occurs in Cancun, as well as most other parts of Mexico.
The most common form of corruption are speed traps where cops demand cash payments. The payoffs are known as “mordidas” or “little bites.”
Retired NYPD Officer Daniel Sprague told CBS 2 that he had heard the stories, but was not prepared for what happened when he was staying at a Cancun resort in April.
Sprague’s wife took a picture of a Mexican woman who was bothering his children. The woman hit his wife in the face with a shoe.
When the Cancun Police Department showed up they accused Sprague of attacking the woman.
“I was going to jail for three days for something that I didn’t do,” he said.
The police drove him around for hours, trying to convince him to make a deal, he said.
It eventually cost him $1,500 to get back to his wife and kids.
“She thought, you know, that I was being beaten someplace, thought I was laying in a ditch some place,” he said.
Security experts told CBS 2 that given the amount of corruption and crime in Mexico, travelers should be ready for anything.
“You could have people dressed and imitating police officers, impersonating police officers. Don’t put anything past these criminals,” security expert Bob Strang said.
The Mexican government said that it is doing everything that it can to root out corruption and criminality within its ranks. That includes firing nearly 4,000 police officers nationwide over the last two years.
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