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Man pleads guilty in kidnapping of ex-boss

Jimm Underwood made two handwritten lists last year when he was planning to kidnap his former employer.

One was an intricate guide for the day of the crime with such entries as "Call in sick," and "Get in car; remove mask slowly."

The other outlined what he wanted to do with the money. The entries ranged from the practical, "Make house payments," to the intriguing, "Baby or Vasectomy!!!"

Prosecutors referred to the documents at a court hearing Tuesday at which Underwood pleaded guilty to burglary, robbery and kidnapping charges.

Underwood, 36, was accused of kidnapping his former boss, Eddie Gomez, from his home and attempting to force Gomez's wife to withdraw $100,000 from their bank account.

During the investigation, police found two letters written by Underwood that suggest he intended to kill Gomez and then himself if the kidnapping went awry.

"I am glad that I killed him. I am just sorry that I had to kill myself as well," the letter said. "I have no remorse for Gomez."

In a letter addressed to his wife, Jodi, Underwood wrote that he was too depressed to go on.

"Please have a good life and move on to bigger and better things," he wrote.

For Gomez, who attended Tuesday's hearing, seeing Underwood again brought back many memories from the kidnapping.

"I was lucky that day," Gomez said outside the courthouse.

According to court documents, Underwood donned a ski mask in April and scaled the wall of the gated community in northwest Hillsborough where Gomez and his wife lived. He forced Gomez at gunpoint to write a check to Mrs. Gomez for her to cash at the bank. He then retrieved the couple's bank records. He also stole jewelry.

Underwood placed Eddie Gomez into the trunk of the family Acura. Underwood wrote out the scenario in one of his lists.

"Tie Eddie down after car is pulled out. Remove gloves. Put new gloves on in the garage. Strap (Gomez) down," he wrote. "Remove gloves. Go back out to car. Open door with clothes. Put gloves back on."

Underwood also demanded that Gomez's wife, Cheryl, use the check to withdraw ransom money from a Tampa bank.

"She will leave ahead of me by 2 minutes," he wrote. "I will be watching her so she better not talk to guards."

After going to the bank, Underwood drove Gomez to a Largo storage shed, where he had previously prepared shackles to restrain Gomez to the floor.

But Gomez managed to break free of the restraints, including one around his neck, and kicked open the shed door. He said thoughts of his wife being killed if he did not break free helped him summon the strength.

"I knew I had to get out to see that she was okay," he said Tuesday.

Gomez's wife could not get money from the bank because the amount Underwood demanded was too large. A suspicious bank teller called authorities. According to the list, Underwood planned to throw the money in a ditch for safe-keeping and then call Mrs. Gomez to tell her where Mr. Gomez was located.

Soon after being alerted, the authorities used electronic monitoring to trace the Acura to a Publix parking lot in Pinellas Park, where they arrested Underwood.

Gomez is the manager at Ferman Chevrolet in Brandon, where Underwood worked for nine months until September 2001. Underwood told authorities he blamed Gomez for the loss of his job as manager of the detail department. The Gomezes did not know Underwood was the assailant until after he was arrested.

Cheryl Gomez, who also was in court Tuesday, said she was scared to see Underwood again.

"It felt good to hear him plead guilty," she said.

Underwood is scheduled to be sentenced April 9 and faces up to life in prison. Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said she will push for the maximum sentence.

"At least now the Gomezes won't have to go through a lengthy trial," she said.

_ Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brinksptimes.com.

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