FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - A federal grand jury indicted a Mexican national on charges that he kidnapped Mexican citizens trying to illegally enter the United States and then demanded money from their relatives for their safe release.
Martin Carranza-Sanchez, 45, was indicted on March 3 on 10 counts, including charges of conspiracy to commit hostage taking, wire fraud, and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.
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 says.
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 says.
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 says.
The scheme typically resulted in payments of between $3,000 and $5,000 for the release of a victim, according to the indictment.
Carranza-Sanchez was arrested at the border on Jan. 21, 2016. He is currently being held in federal custody in Fresno and faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said that kidnapping and fraud are serious federal crimes, regardless of the legal status of the victims in this country.
"The abuse and exploitation of undocumented immigrants is unacceptable, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute those who engage in such criminal conduct," Wagner said.
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