LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A woman and her boyfriend were behind bars Monday, facing federal charges alleging they collected ransom money as part of a kidnapping scheme where Southern California residents were grabbed in Mexico and two were murdered, including a San Diego resident.
Leslie Briana Matla, a 20-year-old U.S. citizen and former Colton resident who lives in Mexico, and Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, 25, of Tijuana, are each charged with one count of money laundering conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Justice reported. If convicted of the charge, both would face up to life in federal prison.
Sanchez was arrested in San Diego on Sunday and was expected to make his initial appearance Monday in Los Angeles federal court. Matla was also arrested in San Diego and made her initial court appearance Friday.
The complaint alleges that Matla crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. to pick up ransom payments from victims' family members.
According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, on March 28, April 13 and April 22, three men -- residents of San Diego, Norwalk and Pasadena -- were kidnapped in Tijuana while on business or visiting family. The victims' families were notified via a caller with a Mexican telephone number to deposit ransom money at a specific location, prosecutors allege.
Mexican authorities found the San Diego victim's body on March 29 -- one day after the man's son placed a bag containing $25,000 inside the women's restroom of a McDonald's in San Ysidro.
The body of the Norwalk victim was found in Mexico on April 14, one day after the victim's family tried, but did not succeed, to pay a $25,000 ransom to a woman whom law enforcement believes was Matla, at a Lowe's parking lot in Norwalk, according to court documents.
According to the DOJ, on April 22, a Pasadena woman called law enforcement to report a family member had been kidnapped in Mexico with a ransom demand of $20,000.
One of the kidnappers, calling from a Mexican phone number, informed the victim's family that a pregnant woman would pick up the cash at a Food 4 Less parking lot in Lynwood. That same day, law enforcement rescued the victim, who was being held hostage at the same Tijuana hotel as the first two kidnapping victims. Nine suspects were arrested by Mexican authorities at the hotel.
A review of U.S.-Mexico border crossing records, security camera videos from the various pickup locations, and social media led law enforcement to identify Matla as the woman sent to San Ysidro, Norwalk and Lynwood to pick up the ransom money on the dates in question, the affidavit alleges.
Records show that Sanchez received wire transfers from two of the kidnapping victims, the complaint alleges.