A National City man was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on Monday after being convicted in a scheme to kidnap Mexicans under the guise of smuggling them to the U.S., then extort money from the victims’ U.S.-based families, prosecutors said.
Luis Francisco Murillo Morfin, 33, was also ordered to pay $62,000 in restitution to the victims, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release.
Morfin’s role was to launder the money the violent kidnapping organization got from relatives of the two dozen hostages, officials said. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering last October.
The group began recruiting victims in August 2015, picking them up in northern Mexico and telling them they would sneak them into the U.S. But after they were driven through a fake border checkpoint in the trunks of cars, the victims were held in a stash house in Tijuana, prosecutors said.
The hostages were then threatened, beaten and raped, according to court testimony.
The victims’ families were then allegedly told their relatives would be beaten, murdered or disemboweled if they didn’t pay ransom. They were ordered to send money via wire transfer to Mexico or deposit it into U.S. bank accounts, including one that belonged to Murillo, officials said.
Murillo would allegedly make trips between the U.S. and Mexico to deliver the funds to his co-conspirators.
On the first two days after the kidnapping began, extortion victims in Ontario, Santa Maria, Northern California, Idaho and Mississippi deposited a total of $62,000 into an account held by Murillo. The defendant then quickly withdrew the funds, lying to the teller that he was using it to buy cars, according to prosecutors.
Four Mexican nationals have also been charged in the case and are believed to still be residing in Mexico: Jesus Antonio Rivera Gaxiola, a.k.a. “The Cook”; Manuel Roman Velazquez, a.k.a. “The Caller”; Alberto Jimenez Bautista, a.k.a. “Jefe”; and Luis Perez Martinez.