Couple arrested in cross-border kidnapping that left two Americans dead
A Southern California woman and her boyfriend have been arrested by the FBI for allegedly collecting ransom in a series of kidnappings that killed two of three US citizens held in Mexico.
Leslie Briana Matla, 20, and Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, 25, are each charged with one count of money laundering conspiracy, the US Department of Justice said.
Matla collected ransoms in Southern California from family members of kidnapping victims held in Tijuana, Mexico, according to the criminal complaint.
Records show that Sanchez received wire transfers from two of the kidnapping victims, according to the complaint.
Leslie Briana Matla, 20, and Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, 25, were charged with collecting a ransom as part of a kidnapping ring operating at Hotel Aqua in Tijuana, Mexico (pictured)
Three men – residents of San Diego, Norwalk and Pasadena – were abducted separately in Tijuana while on a business trip or visiting family, prosecutors said.
Families of the victims were notified via a caller with a Mexican phone number to drop ransoms at specific locations, prosecutors say.
Mexican authorities found the body of San Diego resident Salvador Acosta Medina on March 29 – a day after the man’s adult son placed a bag containing $25,000 in the women’s restroom of a McDonald’s in the California community of San Ysidro near the border, officials said. .
The body of Edgar Esteban Guzman, of Norwalk, was found in Mexico on April 14. A day earlier, the victim’s family unsuccessfully attempted to pay a $25,000 ransom to a woman law enforcement believes to be Matla in a Southern California Lowe’s parking lot, according to court documents.
Kidnapping victim Edgar Esteban Guzman (pictured), from California, was found dead in Mexico in mid-April, a day his family tried unsuccessfully to pay a $25,000 ransom
Medina and Guzman had stayed at the Aqua Hotel in Tijuana before their deaths.
On April 22, a Pasadena woman called law enforcement to report that the kidnappers had demanded $20,000 for the return of the father of her children detained in Mexico, according to an unsealed FBI affidavit obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The victim, described as the owner of a Pasadena taco shop, called the woman under the direction of her captors, telling her he killed a family of four in a DUI accident and needed help $20,000. He told the woman he loved her and their children.
As he would later tell the FBI, he was saying goodbye to that call because he had seen the faces of his captors and knew “they were going to kill him whether a ransom was paid or not.”
One of the kidnappers, calling from a Mexican phone number, informed the taco shop owner’s family that a woman would be coming to collect the money from a Food 4 Less parking lot in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood.
On the same day, law enforcement rescued the victim, who was being held hostage at the same Tijuana hotel as the first two kidnapping victims.
Matla was reportedly seen on surveillance video in San Ysidro near the US-Mexico border crossing the day a $25,000 ransom was collected for the release of Salvador Acosta Medina, who was later found dead.
According to federal officials, nine suspects in the kidnapping ring were arrested by Mexican authorities at the Aqua Hotel.
A review of security camera footage, border crossing recordings and social media led law enforcement to identify Matla as the woman sent to San Ysidro, Norwalk and Lynwood to collect the ransom money from the dates in question, according to the affidavit.
Matla and Sanchez were arrested within days of each other in San Diego and made their first court appearances.
If convicted on the charge, the couple could face life in federal prison. Matla is originally from the town of Colton, Southern California, but lives in Tijuana, where Sanchez is from.