WASHINGTON – A Virginia woman was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for her role in an extortion scheme involving a staged kidnapping in Guatemala, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride for the Eastern District of Virginia and John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Division.
Sheena Flores, 34, of Manassas, Va., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in the Eastern District of Virginia. Flores pleaded guilty in August 2011 to one count of transmitting in foreign commerce, with intent to extort money, a communication containing a threat to injure another person. Judge Lee also sentenced Flores to three years of supervised release to follow her prison term and ordered her to pay $3,000 in restitution.
According to court documents, in July 2010, Flores was living in Guatemala with a child under the age of two who was born in Guatemala. Although Flores had no legal custody rights over the child, Flores had been taking care of the child in Guatemala while her husband was making arrangements to legally bring the child to the United States to live with him and Flores.
On July 6, 2010, from Guatemala, Flores contacted a family member in Manassas by telephone and reported that she and the child had been kidnapped by three men and that the men wanted $5,000 in two hours or they were going to kill Flores and the child. At the time that Flores reported the kidnapping and the ransom demands, Flores was attempting to extort money from her family with a hoax kidnapping and false threats, as she and the child had not been kidnapped.
Upon learning of the kidnapping and believing it to be true, the Flores’ family member called law enforcement authorities in Virginia. Shortly thereafter, FBI agents began investigating the kidnapping and members of the FBI’s Crisis Incident Response Group were dispatched to the family member’s house to monitor the situation and assist the family in negotiating with the kidnappers.
Also on July 6, 2010, Flores’ husband, who was in Manassas, received numerous text messages from Flores’ cellular phone in Guatemala, which repeatedly threatened that Flores and the child would be killed if he did not pay $10,000 in ransom by the next day. Believing that his wife and the child had in fact been kidnapped, Flores’ husband wired a partial ransom payment to Guatemala.
According to court documents, Flores enlisted the help of two men whom she believed were members of the violent gang MS-13 to help carry out the fake kidnapping. Flores and the child were found on July 13, 2010, with the assistance of Guatemalan police.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca H. Bellows for the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney James S. Yoon of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Miami Division Extraterritorial Squad, with support from the FBI Legal Attaché Office in San Salvador, El Salvador, and the FBI Transnational Anti-Gang Task Force in Guatemala.