By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A housekeeper at the Colorado ranch of billionaire Michael Bloomberg was abducted at gunpoint this week by a man who forced her to drive them to Wyoming, where police later arrested the suspect and freed the woman unharmed, according to officials and court documents.
Joseph Beecher, 48, was taken into custody on Thursday and was jailed without bond in Cheyenne, Wyoming, facing multiple state charges including kidnapping and felony menacing, a Colorado sheriff's office said in an online statement
A federal kidnapping charge has also been lodged against the suspect, as documented in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Wyoming.
The abduction took place on Wednesday near the town of Meeker, Colorado, in a rural corner of the state about 200 miles west of Denver, according to law enforcement officials, but was not widely reported by media outlets until Saturday.
Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and onetime U.S. presidential candidate, was not present at his ranch at the time, nor were any of his family, authorities said.
No mention of a possible motive for the kidnapping was made by the sheriff's office or federal officials.
But The New York Times, citing court documents, said the suspect had initially asked the housekeeper about Bloomberg's two adult daughters by name, and later said he had traveled to a nearby airport over the summer in search of the former mayor.
According to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, the abduction began after Beecher rammed his pickup truck through the gate of the Bloomberg ranch, entered the property and accosted the supervising housekeeper as she was working in an upstairs bedroom of the residence.
The housekeeper told authorities the man pointed a rifle at her face, threatened to shoot her and forced her at gunpoint to drive them in her vehicle on a cross-state trek to the Denver area, making several stops along the way, the affidavit said.
The suspect ultimately demanded the victim drive them to Cheyenne, where they rented a motel room under assumed names, and he ordered her to share a bed with him for the night, forcing her to sleep with her head on his chest and one arm over his waist, according to the FBI.
Authorities back in Colorado, alerted on Wednesday to the abduction, managed to track the pair to the motel, and police stormed the room the following day, arresting Beecher and rescuing the housekeeper, the affidavit said.
The FBI said authorities also recovered two rifles and ammunition Beecher is accused of having stolen from a Colorado hotel where he lived and worked until a falling-out with his landlord-employer early on Wednesday, before the kidnapping about 70 miles away.
According to the Rio Blanco Sheriff's Office, Beecher had no known connection to the housekeeper or to Bloomberg, 79, who according to the Times purchased the 4,600-acre ranch in 2020 for nearly $45 million.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Ty Trippet, Bloomberg said he was "deeply grateful" to law enforcement for its "swift and heroic action in this case in ensuring that no lives were lost and that the victim has been rescued and safely returned to her family."
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Kim Coghill)