Police: Man held pet tortoise for ransom

5-year-old African spurred tortoise returned safely to owner


Houston (KPRC) – A missing tortoise has led Houston police to a man wanted for aggravated sexual assault against a child, KPRC reported.

Investigators say 34-year-old Joseph Urbino was holding Gracie, a 5-year-old African spurred tortoise, for ransom at his home after the tortoise escaped during her owner's move from one home to another a few weeks ago.

Stacey Swayze-Krampota, who owns the tortoise, posted dozens of fliers pleading for information.

"I even put 'please' all over them," she says.  "I just wanted people to know how much we loved her and just wanted them to feel something," said Swayze-Krampota.

She finally got a call from someone who investigators believe was Urbino. He demanded $1,000 for Gracie's safe return.  

Swayze-Krampota even received several phone calls from people who say they saw Gracie in Urbino's home.  

Tuesday, nearly three weeks after Gracie's disappearance, Swayze-Krampota confronted Urbino at his home. When sheriff's deputies arrived and ran Urbino's license plate they found he had two outstanding warrants for aggravated sex assault against a child.

Deputies went in and arrested Urbino, who was hiding. They then found Gracie, who was stuffed in a duffel bag inside a closet.

"She's perking up now," said Swayze-Krampota.  "I'm going to take her in just to get checked.  She's getting better.  I'm just glad to see her."

In addition to the outstanding sexual assault charge, Urbino now faces theft charges in the disappearance of Gracie the Tortoise.

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