McALLEN, Texas — Two Mexican cartel smugglers and their Texan-born leader were sentenced for their roles in the kidnapping of an 8-year-old girl who they threatened to sever her fingers if her parents did not pay a ransom.
This week, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced 21-year-old Luis Gerardo Betancourt to a term of life in prison and his two accomplices; 22-year-old Jonathan Carlos Valdez Harris and 25-year-old Luis Enrique Perez Talavera, to 10 years and 20 years in prison respectively. Betancourt was on the run since earlier this year when he disappeared before trial. Crane convicted and sentenced him in absentia.
Texas State Troopers arrested Valdez and Harris in January 2016 after pulling them over in the border city of Roma. The two men had just picked up a group of illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande. Both men pleaded guilty to one charge of human smuggling and were later convicted in connection with the kidnapping case.
The case began on November 30, 2015, when a Mexican woman living in Florida illegally arranged for her 8-year-old daughter to be smuggled through Texas. Soon after, the woman began receiving phone calls demanding more than $18,000 or they would kill the young girl. The cartel threatened to sever body parts to pressure the deal.
FBI agents traced the phone number and interviewed Betancourt, who kept denying his role in the case. The criminal indictment revealed he lied to authorities during the investigation.
Ildefonso Ortiz is an award-winning journalist with Breitbart Texas. He co-founded the Cartel Chronicles project with Brandon Darby and Stephen K. Bannon. You can follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.