San Diego

Couple Arrested in Ransom Scheme After 2 SoCal Men Killed in Mexico

The bodies of a San Diego man and a Norwalk man were found in Tijuana the day after their families made, or attempted to make $25,000 payments to the suspects

Someone holds a ringing cellphone in their hands.

A couple was arrested last week and accused of collecting payments in a kidnap for ransom scheme that left a San Diego man and a Norwalk man dead in Tijuana, Mexico.

Leslie Briana Matla, 20, and her boyfriend Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, 25, who are both Tijuana residents, are accused of traveling to the U.S. to collect ransom payments from the families of three men kidnapped in Tijuana in April and March, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The men were kidnapped south of the border on March 28, April 13 and April 22 while on business or visiting family members. A caller told their families to drop off ransom payments at various locations in Southern California, according to the complaint.

The San Diego man’s body was discovered by Mexican authorities on March 29, the day after his son was directed to drop a bag with $25,000 in the women’s restroom of a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro.

The Norwalk man’s body was found in Mexico on April 14. The day before, his family attempted to pay a $25,000 ransom to a woman in the parking lot of a Lowe’s in Norwalk. Investigators believe the woman was Matla, according to the complaint.

Mexican law enforcement rescued the third victim, a Pasadena man, from a hotel in Tijuana where the other two victims were also held hostage. Investigators received a tip from a woman who called to report her family member was kidnapped and had a ransom demand of $20,000. His family was told a pregnant woman would collect their payment in the parking lot of a Food 4 Less in Lynnwood before the man was rescued, the complaint said.

Nine suspects were arrested at the hotel, according to the complaint.

Based on border crossing records and surveillance video from payment pickup locations, investigators believe Matla was sent from Tijuana to San Diego, Norwalk and Pasadena to collect the money. The complaint also says Sanchez received wire transfers from two of the kidnapping victims.

Matla and Sanchez could face life in federal prison if convicted.

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