Los Angeles (AFP) – A US woman and her boyfriend have been arrested and are facing federal charges for their alleged part in a plot in which three California residents were recently kidnapped while in Mexico and two were killed.
Leslie Briana Matla, 20, a US citizen who lives in Mexico, was arrested last Thursday and Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, 25, of Tijuana, was arrested on Sunday, the US Department of Justice said.
Both face federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy for their alleged role in the kidnapping plot.
Authorities said Matla crossed the border from Mexico into the United States on three occasions in April and March to collect ransom payments from the families of the kidnap victims, who were residents of San Diego, Norwalk and Pasadena.
The men were kidnapped March 28, April 13 and April 22 while on business or visiting family in Tijuana, located just across the border from San Diego, officials said.
In each case, the families of the victims were notified via a caller with a Mexican number to deposit ransom money at a specific location.
“Mexican authorities found the San Diego victim’s body on March 29 — one day after the victim’s adult son placed a bag containing $25,000 inside the women’s restroom of a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro,” prosecutors said.
“The body of the Norwalk victim was found in Mexico on April 14, one day after the victim’s family tried, but did not succeed, to pay a $25,000 ransom to a woman whom law enforcement believes was Matla, at a Lowe’s (store) parking lot in Norwalk,” they added.
The Pasadena man was rescued by law enforcement in Tijuana after a family member called police on April 22 to report he had been kidnapped with a $20,000 ransom demand.
The man was found at a hotel where the other victims had been held, according to cell phone records.
“A review of US-Mexico border crossing records, security camera videos from the various pickup locations, and social media led law enforcement to identify Matla, as the woman sent to … to pick up the ransom money on the dates in question,” prosecutors said.
They added that records show that Montoya Sanchez received wire transfers from two of the kidnapping victims.
If convicted, Matla and Montoya Sanchez face life in prison.
Nine other suspects have been arrested in Mexico.