Six Mexican nationals are accused of kidnapping nine people and murdering six of them, including three U.S. citizens, authorities said Tuesday.
The group, based in Tijuana, Mexico, was in the custody of Mexican authorities and faces charges there, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Central California said in a news release.
Six Mexican nationals were charged Tuesday for their alleged roles in a cross-border kidnap-for-ransom scheme and at least six murders, according to the Department of Justice. The group is accused of kidnapping nine people, six of whom were murdered.
- German Garcia Yera Hernandez, 37
- Gilberto Omar Avila Lopez, 27
- Aylin Estrada Reyes, 24
- Joel Eduardo Mascorro Delgado, 22
- Victoria Camila Espinoza Ballardo, 22
- Oscar Bautista Valencia, 30
Three of the people killed were United State citizens, the DOJ said, adding that some were killed after their families had paid the ransom demanded for their release.
Yera, Lopez and Ballardo each face an additional count of “hostage taking resulting in death” and extortion, the DOJ said.
Yera led the hostage-taking organization from Jan. to April 2020, according to the indictment, and extorted money from victims by taking U.S. and Mexican national hostages and holding them for ransom while demanding money and vehicles from their families in the U.S.
It wasn’t immediately clear where they are being held or what they are accused of in Mexico.
A spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in California declined to say whether they will be brought to the U.S.
The group is accused in the U.S. of operating a kidnapping gang for four months last year that often lured victims to meetings under false pretenses, then held them at gunpoint and brutally beat them, the release said.
After victims were assaulted, the group called relatives and demanded money or cars in exchange for their release.
If victims did not have family members who could pay ransom, they were murdered, the DOJ said. Officials added that victims were typically lured to meetings under false pretenses, held at gunpoint, tied up and brutally beaten.
The group is also accused of killing victims despite receiving a ransom payment to protect the alleged “conspiracy,” authorities said.
Those were murdered after their families paid the ransom were killed because Yera and other conspirators were allegedly “protecting the conspiracy,” according to the DOJ.
A federal grand jury indicted the group on charges of conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit extortion and other crimes.
“The five-count indictment charges all six defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, and one count of extortion,” the DOJ said in a statement. The charged defendants, listed below, are all under 40 years old.
The DOJ listed several areas where the alleged criminals would exchange cash with the victim’s families — including the cities of San Ysidro and Lynwood in California.
If convicted of all charges, the defendants would face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty.
The FBI is investigating the crimes and believes there may be victims who have not yet been identified. Anyone contacted by the defendants relative to a kidnapping or a ransom payment is asked to call the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565.