Texas Woman Charged in Virtual Kidnapping Scheme
HOUSTON – A 34-year-old Houston woman has been taken into custody for her alleged involvement in a virtual kidnapping for ransom scheme that stretched to three states, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas.
A federal grand jury in Houston returned a 10-count indictment against Yanette Rodriguez Acosta aka Yanette Patino under seal on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Authorities took her into custody today, at which time the indictment was unsealed. She is expected to make her initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson at 2:00 p.m. today.
“These types of cases are tragic,” said Martinez. “It’s not the amount of money involved; it’s the fact that these people are tricked into believing their loved ones are in danger and the horror and helplessness they feel as they scramble to secure what they think is their release. It is important for people to know about these scams and to be cautious and mindful when getting these types of calls.”
According to the indictment, Acosta’s co-conspirators used Mexican telephone numbers and called numerous victims throughout the United States in Texas, California and Idaho in an attempt to extort money. They were allegedly told their child had been kidnapped and that they must pay money to secure their safe release. This scheme is commonly referred to as a “virtual kidnapping for ransom,” according to the indictment.
Victims were typically instructed to wire money to individuals in Mexico. However, two of those victims were directed to make money drops at specified locations in the Houston area on Sept. 17, and Sept. 30, 2015, respectively, according to the charges. Both victims were allegedly told their daughters had been kidnapped because they had witnessed a crime and that their fingers would be cut off if the parents did not comply with demands.
Acosta allegedly picked up the ransom payments following the victims’ money drops. The indictment alleges that after taking her portion of the ransom money, Acosta wired the remainder to her co-conspirators in Mexico. She also allegedly recruited others to send money to Mexico.
The two victims paid a total of approximately $28,000, according to the indictment.
Acosta is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money. Each charge carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
The Los Angeles, California, Field Offices of the FBI and IRS - Criminal Investigations conducted the investigation along with the police departments in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, California, and the Montgomery County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Suh is prosecuting the case. The Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the Department of Justice also provided valuable assistance during the course of the investigation.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.