Four Members Of Virtual Kidnapping Ring Sentenced
SAN DIEGO - Four members of an extortion ring were sentenced in federal court today for collectively duping 124 Latino families across the United States, in some cases falsely claiming a family member had been kidnapped and forcing them to pay almost $190,000 in ransom for kidnappings that never took place.
The defendants – Ruth Graciela Raygoza, Maria Del Carmen Pulido Contreras, Adrian Jovan Rocha and Jonathan Rocha – were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller to 40, 21, 21 and 14.5 months in prison, respectively. They pleaded guilty in July of 2014 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money.
According to the plea agreements and other court documents, the ring targeted victims from Mexico and Central America that spoke primarily Spanish and were not United States citizens. As part of the scheme, co-conspirators of the foursome called numerous families in the United States and falsely represented that they were holding a loved one captive, and demanded money for his or her safe release. The extortion victims were usually instructed to send thousands of dollars through either MoneyGram or Western Union. Defendants would then pick up the money in Southern California. After picking up the money, defendants re-wired or delivered the money to other conspirators in Mexico. The money was divided among defendants and co-conspirators in Mexico to fund and promote the scheme.
“This has been by far the worse experience of my life,” one victim wrote in a statement to the court. “I could not sleep for days because I was waiting for their phone call to give instructions since they told me that they would kill my niece if I did not send the money requested. I got sick as a result of not sleeping, not eating well and the stress that I was subjected to and feeling so powerless.”
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said, “This was a cruel hoax that caused significant emotional and financial damage to a large number of people. These sentences are appropriate for defendants who preyed on a vulnerable population with no regard for their suffering.”
“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to dismantling criminal rings that seek to exploit vulnerable victims through their daunting scams,” said interim Special Agent in Charge Joe Garcia. “These unscrupulous criminal networks are motivated by extreme greed and will go to extreme measures to gain illicit proceeds.”
|DEFENDANTS||Case Number: 13CR3984-JM|
|Ruth Graciela Raygoza||Age: 64||Chula Vista, California|
|Maria Del Carmen Pulido Contreras||Age: 43||Los Angeles, California|
|Adrian Jovan Rocha||Age: 27||Tijuana, Mexico|
|Jonathan Rocha||Age: 24||Tijuana, Mexico|
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349 - Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations