California men allegedly kidnapped illegal immigrants for ransom

Law enforcement officials arrested three men allegedly involved in a crime ring that kidnapped at least six illegal immigrants near the Mexico border, whom they held for ransom and often refused to release after payments were made, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorneys Office has charged Edgar Adrian Lemus, 23, of Vernon; Francisco Javier Hernandez Martinez, 20, also of Vernon; and Junior Almendarez Martinez, 23, of Watts with one count of money laundering conspiracy each. All three suspects were arrested Monday evening.

The suspects allegedly targeted victims who were attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. The kidnappers offered to assist in smuggling the victims across the border, but instead held them for ransom.

Video evidence shows Lemus allegedly getting a $19,000 ransom payment on April 20 at a Walmart store in South Gate from the husband of a victim. But instead of releasing the woman, the kidnappers demanded an additional payment.

After the victim’s husband told the kidnappers he was in the streets begging for more money, they stopped calling him and released the woman on April 22.

Hernandez allegedly picked up a $15,000 ransom payment on May 26 at a Walmart in Paramount from the husband of another kidnapping victim. After the ransom payment was made, the kidnappers demanded an additional $16,000 because the victim purportedly broke a package believed to contain narcotics, the affidavit states.

The three suspects were spotted together on May 31 at a shopping center in Pico Rivera for the second ransom payment pickup.

Almendarez was also observed with Lemus and Hernandez after Lemus picked up a ransom payment at a Target store in South Gate, according to the criminal complaint.

If convicted, the defendants face maximum sentences of 20 years in federal prison.

The FBI investigated this matter with assistance from the South Gate Police Department and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.