Members of a violent kidnap-for-ransom ring based in Tijuana were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury after they were accused of abducting nine people and killing six of them, including three U.S. citizens.
All six defendants face one count each of conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit extortion and extortion, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Central District of California.
All six are Mexican citizens, prosecutors said. They were arrested in Mexico and also face charges filed by local authorities.
German Garcia Yera Hernandez, 37, was named as the alleged ringleader of the group, prosecutors said. The other defendants are Gilberto Omar Avila Lopez (also known as Luis Enrique Avila Moreno and Omar), 27; Aylin Estrada Reyes, 24; Joel Eduardo Mascorro Delgado, 22; Victoria Camila Espinoza Ballardo, 22; and Oscar Bautista Valencia, 30.
Yera, Lopez and Ballardo each face an additional count of hostage taking resulting in death and an additional count of extortion, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, the ring was active last year from January to April.
Ballardo, Valencia and other members of the ring would arrange to meet the victims under false pretenses so that they could be taken hostage, according to the indictment. The defendants held the victims at gunpoint, tied them up and often brutally beat them, prosecutors said.
After each abduction, members of the ring would contact the victim's family and demand ransom payments, according to the indictment. Once payment was set up, prosecutors said, Yera would instruct an unnamed co-conspirator to go to one of several set locations in the U.S. to collect the money. A second unnamed co-conspirator would help with processing the ransom payments.
Three of the victims did not have family members who could pay ransom, and they were killed, prosecutors said.
In other cases, ransom payments were made. Three of the remaining six kidnapping victims, including one from San Diego, were killed despite relatives sending money, according to the indictment.
Members of the ring surveilled another victim, a Norwalk resident who was visiting a relative in Tijuana, because they believed he had a large amount of money, the indictment said. After kidnapping him, the group forced the victim to call his mother, tell her he was in trouble and call another person to arrange for a $25,000 ransom payment, the indictment said.
The victim's mother sent $400 and eventually negotiated to pay $1,000 and give the kidnapping ring her son's vehicle as a final payment, the indictment said.
The first unnamed co-conspirator traveled to a Lowe's home improvement store in Norwalk on April 13, 2020, to collect the payment and vehicle but got a message from the second co-conspirator saying the victim's parents' "weren't well," according to the indictment.
"I think that they are going to kill him," the first co-conspirator wrote.
"Well yes, looks like they don’t want him," the second replied.
The victim was killed later that day, according to the indictment.
If convicted of all charges, the defendants would face mandatory life sentences or the death penalty, prosecutors said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.