LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A former Colton resident and her boyfriend remained behind bars Monday, facing federal charges alleging they collected ransom money as part of a kidnapping scheme where Southern California residents were taken in Mexico and two were killed.
Leslie Briana Matla, 20, a United States citizen who is a resident of Mexico, was arrested Thursday in San Diego. Her boyfriend, Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, 25, of Tijuana, Mexico, was arrested Sunday in San Diego. They face one count of money laundering conspiracy each.
A federal criminal complaint alleges that Matla crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. to pick up ransom payments from kidnapped victims’ family members at locations predetermined by her co-conspirators.
According to an affidavit filed with the complain, three men — residents of San Diego, Norwalk and Pasadena — were kidnapped in Tijuana while on business or visiting family between March 28 and April 22. The victims’ families were notified by a caller with a Mexican telephone number to deposit ransom money at a specific location.
Mexican authorities found the San Diego victim’s body on March 29, one day after the victim’s adult son placed a bad containing $25,000 inside the women’s restroom of a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro. The body of the Norwalk victim was found in Mexico on April 14, one day after the victim’s family tried, but failed, to pay a $25,000 ransom to a woman at a Lowe’s Parking lot in Norwalk.
On April 22, a Pasadena woman called law enforcement to report a family member had been kidnapped in Mexico with a ransom demand of $20,000. One of the suspected kidnappers, calling from a Mexican phone number, informed the victim’s family that a pregnant woman would pick up the random money at a Food 4 Less parking lot in Lynwood. That same day, law enforcement rescued the victim, being held hostage at the same Tijuana hotel as the first two kidnapping victims, according to cell phone records.
Nine suspects were arrested by Mexican authorities at the hotel.
After a review of U.S.-Mexico border crossing records, security camera videos from the various pickup locations, and social media led law enforcement to identify Matla as the woman sent to San Ysidro, Norwalk and Lynwood to pick up the ransom money, the affidavit stated.
The complaint alleged that bank records showed Sanchez also received wire transfers from two of the kidnapping victims.
If convicted as charged, Matla and Sanchez would face statutory maximum sentences of life in federal prison.