A National City man who laundered tens of thousands of dollars in random payments on behalf of a violent Mexico-based kidnapping ring was convicted Wednesday for his role in the scheme, officials said.
A judge found Luis Francisco Murillo Morfin, 33, guilty of conspiracy to launder money at the conclusion of a two-day bench trial, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement.
The kidnappers targeted two-dozen Mexican nationals in August of 2015, Mrozek said. The kidnapping ring lured them by promising to smuggle them into the U.S.
But the kidnappers then put them in the trunks of cars, drove them through fake border checkpoints and took them to a “stash house” in Tijuana, he said. Once there, “They were threatened, beaten and raped. ”
The ring then contacted the victims’ families in the U.S. to extort money from them, officials said.
“Extortion victims testified at trial about being threatened that if they did not pay, their relatives would be beaten, murdered or disemboweled,” Mrozek said.
Murillo, described as a legal permanent resident of the U.S., drove between Mexico and the U.S. twice to ferry ransom payments to his co-conspirators.
Prosecutors said Murillo opened a bank account which was used to collect $62,000 in extortion payments from victims throughout the U.S.
“Murillo later admitted to law enforcement that he knew the money constituted the proceeds of criminal activity,” Mrozek said.
Four other defendants charged along with Morfin remain at large, Mrozek said. All are Mexican nationals and believed to be living in Mexico.
Morfin faces up to 10 years in federal prison when he returns to court for sentencing on Feb. 4, officials said.