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Three Arrested for Collecting Kidnapping Ransom in Pico Rivera and South Gate

arrested

June 9, 2021

LOS ANGELES – Law enforcement officials have arrested three men allegedly involved in a ring that kidnapped at least six people near the U.S.-Mexico border, later demanding ransom for their release, and often refusing to release them after payments were made.

Edgar Adrian Lemus, 23, of Vernon; Francisco Javier Hernandez Martinez, 20, also of Vernon; and Junior Almendarez Martinez, 23, of Watts, have been charged with one count of money laundering conspiracy. Lemus and Hernandez were arrested Monday evening on a federal criminal complaint. Almendarez was arrested – also on Monday evening – on a separate complaint.

According to affidavits filed with the complaints, each of the kidnapping incidents targeted victims who were waiting or attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. In each incident, the kidnappers offered to assist in smuggling the victims across the border from Mexico, but instead would hold them for ransom.

The kidnappers insisted on ransom payments from the victim’s family members to release the victim, the affidavit states.

The kidnappers  used specific sections at Walmart and other stores in Southern California to meet with the family members to collect the ransom payments. After the payments were made, however, the kidnappers demanded additional money rather than releasing the victim, according to the affidavit.

Lemus picked up a $19,000 ransom payment on April 20 at a Walmart store in South Gate and Hernandez allegedly picked up a $15,000 ransom payment on May 26 at a Walmart in Paramount and at a Target store in South Gate.

All three were seen together on May 31 at a shopping center in Pico Rivera for another ransom payment pickup.

Law enforcement has identified Lemus, Hernandez and Almendarez as individuals that either picked up or received ransom payments from the victims’ family members, specifically, the defendants match the individuals captured on video surveillance footage during the ransom drops.

At one payment stop, the three refused to release the victim and demanded additional payment. After the victim’s husband told the kidnappers that they had made him crash his car and he was in the streets begging for more money, they stopped calling him. The victim was released on April 22.

The $15,000 ransom payment Hernandez picked up on May 26 at the Walmart in Paramount was from the husband of another kidnapping victim who was being held in Mexicali.

After the ransom payment was made, the kidnappers  demanded an additional $16,000 because the victim purportedly broke a package believed to contain narcotics, the affidavit states.

From February 9 to June 2, Almendarez  made 10 cash transfers – all but one sent to individuals in Mexico – totaling $14,720 at a MoneyGram store in Lynwood. Several of the transfers were sent to a receiving MoneyGram agent in Mexicali, where the kidnappings occurred, the affidavit alleges.

If convicted, the defendants would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The FBI investigated this matter. The South Gate Police Department and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office provided substantial assistance.

From a release by the DOJ.

 

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