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Arrest made in Tampa kidnap case

Published Oct. 13, 2005

A former minister and director of a Hillsborough County boys home has been charged in the January kidnapping of Tampa businessman and philanthropist Bob Thomas. Gene Raymond Jandreau, 51, was arrested without incident Monday by the FBI outside a fast food restaurant in Miami and charged with extortion. Jandreau, who helped Thomas start the Jesus Loves You Inc. boys home in the 1970s, is being held without bail in Miami pending a hearing Friday on his transfer to Tampa federal court.

The FBI, local police and Thomas, 66, have been reluctant to talk about the abduction and investigation. Rumors had surfaced that Thomas had negotiated his own release and promised not to identify his abductors.

Despite Jandreau's arrest, many questions remain in the case. Thomas, who has not commented publicly, did not return a telephone call Tuesday.

His attorney, Thomas MacDonald, said they were "absolutely grateful for the extraordinary work of the FBI."

FBI spokesman Brian Kensel said agents have been tracking Jandreau around the country since Thomas' safe return Jan. 16, just 42 hours after he had been abducted from his driveway at gunpoint.

"He's been to both coasts and Canada," Kensel said of Jandreau. "We were just a step behind him several times."

Jandreau, who apparently traveled "was making demands for money" in the Thomas case, said Kensel, but he refused to provide any details. No federal kidnapping charges were filed because Thomas apparently was not transported over state lines.

Though police reported at the time that Thomas was abducted by at least two men in a van, Kensel would not say whether agents have any solid leads on other suspects.

"We're continuing our investigation, to see if there was anyone else involved, if so, who, and where they are," Kensel said.

Jandreau, a former minister, was director of Jesus Loves You Inc., a north Hillsborough home for disadvantaged boys that he founded with Thomas in 1976.

The operation was at the center of a long and bitter civil lawsuit, leading to alleged death threats against Thomas by Jandreau, according to Hillsborough Sheriff's reports.

Thomas and the state attorney general's office charged that Jandreau tried to steal assets of the non-profit corporation, then created false records to support his efforts to sell its 70 acres in a private deal.

Jandreau later moved to Tennessee, where he tried to start a similar home.

Thomas, a devout Catholic who owns thousands of acres in Hillsborough County, had donated the land for Jesus Loves You Inc. The property was overseen by courts throughout the 1980s and was sold last year to a Catholic organization that operates New Life Dwelling Place, a residential child-abuse prevention center.

In 1981, the same year Thomas' civil suit was filed, Jandreau was charged with child abuse involving boys at Jesus Loves You. The charges were dismissed when prosecutors said the retarded children involved could not remember when the alleged crimes took place.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies put Thomas under temporary surveillance in 1982 after Jandreau's son-in-law told authorities that Jandreau blamed Thomas for his troubles and had talked of having Thomas killed.

Jandreau was never charged in connection with the reports.

_Times staff writer Rick Bragg and the Associated Press contributed to this report.