FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – A Mexican citizen convicted in a scheme to defraud other Mexican citizens seeking to enter the United States without documents has been sentenced to 6 ½ years in federal prison.
A federal grand jury in 2016 indicted Martin Carranza-Sanchez, 45, on charges that he kidnapped Mexican citizens trying to enter the United States without documentation and then demanded money from their relatives in exchange for their safe release.
Carranza-Sanchez faced charges of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, wire fraud and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence. He agreed to plead guilty to the wire fraud charge.
In five separate instances involving six victims between December 2010 and November 2015, Carranza-Sanchez took undocumented immigrants hostage in Mexico and threatened to harm them if their friends and family in the United States did not pay him, according to the indictment.
Carranza-Sanchez “posed as an undocumented immigrant smuggler (also known as a ‘coyote’) in Mexico in order to attract undocumented immigrants with U.S. resident relatives or friends,” the indictment said.
He and his associates, who were not named in the indictment, lured the victims to various locations in Mexico, where they were held against their will “through violence and intimidation,” the indictment said.
The victims were forced to provide their kidnappers with the phone numbers of their friends and family members in the United States, according to prosecutors.
Carranza-Sanchez then contacted the victims’ family and friends in the United States by phone and demanded money for the victims’ safe crossing into the United States. In more than one incident, he put a pistol to an immigrant’s head and threatened to kill them if the family did not pay immediately, according to the indictment.
In some cases, after receiving the payments Carranza-Sanchez ordered his hostages to cross the border into the United States, at which point they were arrested by border patrol agents, the indictment said.
The scheme typically resulted in payments of between $3,000 and $5,000 for the release of a victim, according to the indictment. In a statement issued Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert of the Eastern District of California said Carranza-Sanchez defrauded U.S. residents of approximately $95,000 in the scheme – a sum the man was ordered to repay.
Carranza-Sanchez was arrested at the border on Jan. 21, 2016. Had he been convicted on all charges, he would have faced life in prison.