Couple arrested in cross-border kidnapping that left 2 dead

3 California residents were kidnapped in Mexico and 2 were murdered

LOS ANGELES – A couple was arrested and charged after they allegedly collected ransom money as part of a kidnapping conspiracy where California residents were kidnapped in Mexico and two of them were murdered.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Leslie Briana Matla, 20, a U.S. citizen who now is a resident of Mexico, was arrested Thursday in San Diego after a complaint of money laundering and conspiracy against her and her boyfriend, Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, 25, of Tijuana, Mexico.

Sanchez was arrested in San Diego on Sunday and made his first court appearance Monday in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Matla made her first court appearance on Friday and remains in federal custody.

The complaint alleges that Matla crossed the border from Mexico into the United States to pick up ransom payments from kidnapped victims’ family members at locations predetermined by her co-conspirators.

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.

Mexican authorities found the San Diego victim’s body on March 29 – one day after the victim’s adult son placed a bag containing $25,000 inside the women’s restroom of a McDonald’s restaurant 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.

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 ransom money 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, according to cell phone records. 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 states.

Records show that Sanchez received wire transfers from two of the kidnapping victims, the complaint alleges.

If convicted of this charge, Matla and Sanchez would face statutory maximum sentences of life in federal prison.

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The FBI investigated this matter.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jeffrey M. Chemerinsky and Joseph D. Axelrad of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.

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