A colleague of the man charged with Naomi Irion’s kidnapping says the suspect was acting suspiciously in the days around her disappearance.
Joel Santillan says he was being mentored by the accused, Troy Driver, 41, at mining company Ledcor near Reno, Nevada.
Santillan, 34, said he went to the FBI after Naomi’s disappearance, believing Driver may have dumped evidence or even the 18-year-old’s body near the rural Nevada mines where they worked.
The mine worker’s claims suggest he may be the unnamed tipster mentioned by Churchill County Sheriff’s Department in a Wednesday statement, whose information led to the discovery of Naomi’s body in the mountains on the edge of the county on Tuesday.
Naomi was kidnapped from a Walmart in Fernley, Nevada, about 30 miles east of Reno, on March 12. Surveillance footage showed a man waiting in the parking lot for her.
Her body was found on Tuesday, 17 days after she vanished. Police did not give an exact location where it was discovered.
Irion moved to the United States last year after living a sheltered life growing up in Russia, Germany and South Africa, a result of her father’s job with the State Department
Joel Santillan says he was being mentored by Troy Driver at mining company Ledcor and he noticed Driver acting suspiciously around the time Naomi disappeared
Ex-convict Troy Driver, 41, is accused of kidnapping Irion from the Walmart parking lot in Fernley during the early morning hours of March 12. He made his initial court appearance before Canal Township Justice Court Judge Lori Matheus on Wednesday who ruled that his bail will remain at $750,000.
The Northumberland Mine in Nevada where Santillan said Driver could have dropped off evidence that tied him to Naomi Irion’s kidnapping
No-one has yet been charged in her murder, although Driver has been accused of her kidnapping.
In a video posted on Facebook, Santillan accused Ledcor of trying to cover up their links to Driver.
He alleged that his former employer fired him because he went to the FBI, and the firm tried to wipe his company laptop and cell phone before federal agents could check them for evidence – including his conversations with Driver in the days around Naomi’s disappearance.
Ledcor spokeswoman Katherine Coutinho told DailyMail.com that Santillan’s claims were ‘unfounded’ and that his firing had ‘nothing to do with Troy Driver’ but she declined to give any further details about his termination.
She also said that Driver is no longer a Ledcor employee.
Santillan said in his Facebook video: ‘I believe Troy Driver buried some evidence out at the mines,’ .
‘He was my mentor at Ledcor for those three weeks from March 7 until March 25, the day he got arrested at the office.’
Media reports say Driver was arrested at his home, though Santillan insists it was actually at the Ledcor office in Reno.
‘They arrested Troy Driver at Ledcor’s office in Reno, guns blazing and everything,’ the mine worker said.
‘March 7 through 11 we were at the office for all week, pretty much.
‘That weekend was the weekend she got abducted, Naomi.
‘On Sunday the 13th Troy text messaged me saying he got subpoenaed to court for an underage minor. So he wasn’t going to make it to work on Monday.’
Santillan said Driver was always punctual, but on Tuesday March 15 he showed up 20 minutes late to their job in Eureka, Nevada.
‘Troy is never late to anything. He’s always early when the time is set. So he was late, after the weekend she disappeared,’ he said.
The pair then drove to four mines in the area, he said, ending at the Northumberland gold mine in Nye County at around 9.30pm.
‘We get there and he has to get out to pee. He never takes breaks,’ Santillan said in his Facebook video. ‘I get out and have a pee too. As I get out, you don’t hear nothing coming from him, so he’s not peeing.
‘I wonder if Troy actually dumped some evidence out at that mine. That’s very suspicious.
Santillan says he was fired from Ledcor after he went to the FBI with his suspicions that Driver was involved in the disappearance of Naomi Irion but the company denies that
Irion’s family had told DailyMail.com that the 18-year-old was exploring life as a free, young American woman after growing up in sheltered communities
‘Please I hope to God he didn’t kill her. But he could have disposed her body out there somewhere.’
Santillan said the next day Driver made the unusual move of leaving him at the office to visit another mine near Eureka.
‘I’m thinking the reason why is because he was getting rid of evidence of Naomi,’ he said.
‘I knew something was up with him, something was wrong with him. He walked two miles by himself… That’s a perfect place to dump body parts or whatever that might be.’
Santillan said Driver also suddenly got rid of his beard the following week, and told his colleague he ‘went camping with the wife and kids’ – though Santillan said Driver is separated from his wife.
Santillan in the video he posted to Facebook in which he airs his suspicions about Driver
‘That was already a lie there,’ he said. ‘That’s what made me believe that in fact he was the abductor, he was the kidnapper.
The 34-year-old claimed Ledcor fired him for speaking to the FBI, because his bosses did not want the company to be publicly associated with Driver.
‘They wanted me to not talk to the FBI and tell them evidence of where Naomi could have been at,’ he said.
‘For Ledcor to try to cover that up, or to get mad at me for telling the FBI what I know, is pretty upsetting.’
Santillan claimed that the mining firm also tried to wipe his company laptop and cell phone before an FBI agent could check them for his communications with Driver.
The former mining worker posted screenshots of his text messages with a Ledcor staffer asking for his Apple ID and password.
‘Good morning Joel. This is [redacted] from Ledcor,’ the text said. ‘I was very surprised when I was handed your Ledcor items. The reason for my text is to see if you can give me the passcode to the phone and the Apple ID and password set up on the phone please. I cannot wipe it and that creates a few issues.’
Santillan replied: ‘Sorry but that is not possible I gave all the stuff to the FBI already because there’s important documents on there that no one let me get before I left nothing against you just against ledcors management.’
Driver is a convicted felon who previously served 12 years in California state prison for his role in a methamphetamine dealer’s murder
Naomi’s brother Casey Valley ( second from left) and other members of Irion’s family are pictured at suspect Troy Driver’s court appearance on Wednesday
The body of Naomi Irion, 18 was found at a gravesite on Tuesday – 17 days after she disappeared
Surveillance footage also showed a hooded suspect apparently waiting outside of the Walmart parking lot in Fernley, Nevada for Irion that morning
Irion was seen in surveillance footage buying snacks at a gas station convenience store on her way to a her factory job before she disappeared on March 12
‘They arrested Troy Driver at Ledcor’s office in Reno, guns blazing and everything,’ said Santillan even though media reports have said he was arrested at home
‘So you know I just dropped the Ledcor cell phone with the police,’ the staffer added. ‘They will be contacting you for all the codes so they can access the information’
Santillan complained that he was paired up to work with Driver as his ‘mentor’ despite the man’s previous 15-year sentence as the accessory to the murder of a meth dealer and other violent crimes.
‘I don’t know what Ledcor’s policy is. I know they did a good background check on me. Why didn’t they do that to him?’ he said.
‘I was working next to him for three weeks. That guy could have f***ing murdered or kidnapped me.
‘Even from the beginning I called him out. I said this guy’s a f***ing weirdo,’ he added. ‘He’s crazy. Troy Driver is definitely someone you do not want to f*** with.’
Ledcor says it encourages its employees to contact law enforcement if they had any information about Irion’s abduction and death
Coutinho, the Ledcor spokeswoman said in a statement to DailyMail.com: ‘Ledcor has been fully cooperating with the FBI in their investigation and we encouraged all our employees to contact the FBI or local law enforcement if they had any information that could help in the investigation.
‘We continue to reinforce this message.’
She also declined to discuss background checks they performed on Driver, if any.
‘We do not disclose information related to employee background checks. What I can tell you is Ledcor is in full compliance with local employment regulations,’ she said.
The company declined to comment whether law enforcement had been conducting searches or had recovered evidence – or Naomi’s body – from their Nevada mines.
In a criminal complaint filed Wednesday morning, prosecutors alleged Driver – who was apprehended last Friday in connection to her disappearance – ‘did abduct Naomi Irion and did hold or detain her for the purpose of committing sexual assault and/or for the purpose of killing her.’
He made his initial court appearance Wednesday, via video conference from Lyon County Jail, before Canal Township Justice Court Judge Lori Matheus ruled that his bail will remain at $750,000.
If Driver is able to post bail, he will be required to wear a GPS monitor as a condition of his release. He also must stay away from Fernley, Nevada, where Irion’s kidnapping took place.
Driver is due back in court for a preliminary hearing on April 12 to determine whether there is enough evidence for him to be tried in state court.