14 May – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – Five men involved in a scheme to forcibly steal illegal aliens from smugglers and to hold the aliens for ransom have been convicted of federal hostage-taking and weapons charges. The five participated in the abduction of several illegal aliens who were seized from alien smugglers who were threatened with a gun and beaten with baseball bats.
One man involved in the case was found guilty yesterday afternoon by a federal jury in Los Angeles. Felipe Mendoza-Granades, 31, was convicted of conspiracy, two counts of hostage-taking and two counts of using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. The two firearms counts carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 32 years in prison, and Mendoza-Granades is facing an additional sentence of approximately 20 years.
The other four previously convicted are:
* Luis Aguilar-Ramirez, 30, who pleaded guilty on April 25;
* Sergio Aguilar-Ramirez, 32, pleaded guilty on April 28;
* Juan Becerra-Perez, 22, who pleaded guilty on April 27; and
* Daniel Montano-Perez, 33, who also pleaded guilty on April 27.
* All four men pleaded guilty to conspiracy, hostage-taking and using firearm in relation to a crime of violence. The firearm count carries a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in prison, and the defendants are facing an addition sentence of approximately 14 years for the hostage-taking charge.
* According to court documents and evidence presented at Mendoza-Granades’ trial, the gang sent a confederate to Mexico, where he posed as a “pollo,” or someone who wanted to be smuggled into the United States. After the confederate was smuggled into the country with other illegal aliens and brought to Los Angeles, the confederate contacted his associates, ostensibly to pay his smuggling fee. On February 11, 2004, the gang confronted the original alien smugglers in a parking lot of a local supermarket. Brandishing a handgun and baseball bats, the defendants abducted three aliens, stole the smugglers’ van and forced the smugglers to drive to their drop house. At the smugglers’ drop house, the defendants beat and threatened the remaining alien smugglers and then abducted all the additional illegal aliens at the house. Those hostages were driven to a new “drop apartment” near Wilshire Center. During the next two days, the abducted illegal aliens were kept against their will while being threatened with death or harm unless their relatives paid fees that were due to the alien smugglers. The scheme ended on February 13 when the California Highway Patrol stopped the stolen van and discovered that it was carrying two kidnappers and one illegal alien.
* According to court documents, defendant Sergio Aguilar-Ramirez admitted to participating in kidnappings of smuggled aliens on approximately 30 prior occasions.
* All five defendants in this case are illegal aliens from Tepeapulco, Mexico. They are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Audrey B. Collins in July.
* This case was investigated by agents from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.