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Press Release

Brothers Plead Guilty to Hostage-Taking of Unauthorized Immigrants

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California


SAN DIEGO – Virves Pablo-Francisco, a citizen of Guatemala, pleaded guilty in federal court today, admitting that he and his younger brother, Nicolas Pablo-Francisco, kidnapped three unauthorized immigrants, including a boy from Afghanistan and a father and son from Ecuador, and held them for thousands of dollars in ransom in June 2023. Nicolas Pablo-Francisco pleaded guilty to similar charges in February.

In his plea agreement, Virves Pablo-Francisco admitted that on June 13, 2023, he, his brother and others abducted a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan and held him hostage in a residence in Escondido along with two other foreign nationals—the father and son from Ecuador who were kidnapped the day before. The defendants demanded ransom payments ranging from $4,000 to $10,000 per person for their release.

Additionally, Virves Pablo-Francisco admitted that he provided the Ecuadorian father and son no food and told them they were required to pay extra if they wanted to eat.

Nicolas Pablo-Francisco, who pleaded guilty in February, admitted holding the boy hostage and demanding ransom from his family.  He also admitted assisting his older brother Virves in the continued detention of the Ecuadorian father and son pending payment of a ransom by their family.

Federal authorities first learned of the abductions late in the day on June 13, 2023, when the Pablo-Francisco brothers contacted the 16-year-old’s family member in the United States, claiming to have the boy and demanding $4,000 for his release. The family member reported the contact to law enforcement, which led to an overnight, multi-agency effort to locate the boy and identify his kidnappers.

By morning, agents with the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force - with support from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office - had identified a residence in Escondido where they suspected the boy was being held. With assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI agents obtained and executed a federal search warrant for the residence.

Upon entering the home, agents located Nicolas Pablo-Francisco and the boy, along with the Ecuadorians who agents learned were also being held for ransom. All three migrant hostages entered the United States illegally in the days leading up to their rescue. Virves Pablo-Francisco, who was not present at the Escondido house on the day of the raid, was arrested later pursuant to a warrant.

“These victims are safe because a family member was brave enough to seek help from law enforcement officials,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “Always report crime. We are standing by to hold those accountable who commit crimes, and to support victims and their families. Also, I urge anyone who is considering a dangerous journey into the United States: Please don’t risk your life by trusting smugglers. It could be a very costly mistake.”

“These guilty pleas demonstrate the FBI’s commitment to bringing kidnapping victims home safely,” said FBI San Diego Acting Special Agent in Charge John Kim. “Criminals involved in alien smuggling may think they will get away with taking migrants hostage because of the unique vulnerability of their victims. They are wrong.”

Nicolas Pablo-Francisco is scheduled to be sentenced on May 6, 2024, before U.S. District Judge Cynthia A. Bashant. Virves Pablo-Francisco’s sentencing hearing is scheduled to take place on July 15, 2024.  

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert J. Miller, Jordan Arakawa, and David Eugene Fawcett.

DEFENDANTS                                             Case Number 23cr01355-BAS                                            

Virves Pablo-Francisco                                  Age: 22                                   Guatemala/Escondido, CA

Nicolas Pablo-Francisco                                 Age: 20                                   Guatemala/Escondido, CA


Hostage Taking – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1203(a)

Maximum penalty: Life in prison and $250,000 fine

Harboring Aliens – Title 8, U.S.C., Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii)

Maximum Penalty: Five years in prison and $250,000 fine


Federal Bureau of Investigation

Updated April 23, 2024

Press Release Number: CAS24-0423-Pablo-Francisco