Couple charged in plot to kidnap SoCal men for ransom after 2 were found dead in Mexico

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An ambulance crosses the San Ysidro sentry box border crossing in Tijuana on April 27, 2020. (Francisco Vega / Getty Images)

An ambulance crosses the San Ysidro sentry box border crossing in Tijuana on April 27, 2020. (Francisco Vega / Getty Images)

A former Colton resident and her boyfriend are in custody to face charges in a kidnapping-for-ransom plot that spanned the U.S.-Mexico border and left two men dead, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Leslie Briana Matla, 20, a U.S. citizen living in Mexico, and her 25-year-old boyfriend Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez of Tijuana tried to collect $25,000 from the abducted victims’ families before they were found dead, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

One of three kidnapped victims was able to escape death. The men — residents of San Diego, Norwalk and Pasadena — were in Tijuana on business or to visit family when they were abducted on March 28, April 13 and April 22, authorities said.

Their families then got a call from a Mexican phone number, ordering them to leave ransom money at a designated location in California, where Matla would retrieve it, officials said.

Prosecutors did not name the slain men. But the Los Angeles Times identified them as Salvador Acosta Medina of San Diego and Edgar Esteban Guzman of Norwalk, citing the criminal complaint.

Both Medina and Guzman were found dead in Mexico one day after being abducted, in spite of their families’ attempts to pay a $25,000 ransom. Medina’s adult son left a bag with the cash inside in a McDonald’s woman’s restroom in San Ysidro, while Guzman’s family tried to pay a woman prosecutors believe was Matla at a Lowe’s parking lot in Norwalk, according to court documents.

The Pasadena victim was rescued the same day he was kidnapped after a relative reported the ransom request. The victim’s family told investigators they were asked to hand over $20,000 to a pregnant woman at a Food 4 Less parking lot in Lynwood.

The man was being held hostage at a Tijuana hotel, where the first two victims had also been detained. Mexican authorities arrested nine suspects at the hotel, officials said.

After reviewing border crossing records and security cameras and the ransom drop-off spots, detectives identified Matla as the woman sent to collect the payments. Other records show Sanchez received wire transfers from two of the victims, prosecutors said.

Both Matla and Sanchez were arrested in San Diego — Matla on Thursday and Sanchez on Sunday — to face one count each of money laundering conspiracy. If convicted as charged, each could face up to life in federal prison.

Sanchez was scheduled to appear in federal court in L.A. Monday afternoon, while Matla remains in U.S. custody after her initial appearance Friday, officials said.

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