Jury Convicts Pharr Man in Absentia for Hostage Taking Conspiracy
McALLEN, Texas – A 20-year-old Pharr man has been convicted of both conspiracy to commit hostage taking and conspiracy to transport undocumented aliens, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez. The federal jury sitting in McAllen convicted Luis Gerardo Betancourt in absentia following a five-day trial and less than three hours of deliberation.
Betancourt was present upon the jury’s selection, but failed to appear for trial and presentation of the evidence. He is considered a fugitive and a warrant remains outstanding for his arrest. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to contact the United States Marshals Service in McAllen, Texas at (956) 618-8025.
The investigation began Dec. 4, 2015, when authorities learned of people in other states being forced to pay for the release of family members being held hostage at an undetermined location. Testimony at trial revealed that an individual had paid approximately $17,000 for such release. The jury heard that some family members received threats such as to cut off body parts and kill the hostages, one of whom was an eight-year-old victim, if monetary demands were not met. Further investigation revealed Betancourt’s involvement in the conspiracy. The jury heard that he was responsible for recruiting and transporting co-conspirators as well as the receipt of money sent by the victims’ family members.
The hostages held during the course of the conspiracy were eventually released Dec. 8, 2015.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane presided over the trial and has set sentencing for June 8, 2017. At that time, Betancourt faces up to life in federal prison for conspiracy to commit hostage taking and up to 10 years for the alien transportation conspiracy.
The FBI Safe Streets Task Force conducted the investigation with assistance from Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, police departments in Pharr and Robstown Police Department and the Orange County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David A. Lindenmuth and Roberto Lopez Jr. are prosecuting the case.