4 Sentenced for Duping 124 Families in Abduction Scam

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Four people were sentenced in San Diego federal court for duping 124 families across the United States, falsely claiming that family members of the victims had been kidnapped and would only be released in exchange for thousands of dollars in ransom.

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U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller Monday ordered the defendants — Ruth Graciela Raygoza, 64, of Chula Vista; Maria Del Carmen Pulido Contreras, 43, of Los Angeles; and Tijuana residents Adrian Jovan Rocha, 27, and Jonathan Rocha, 24 — to serve 40, 21, 21 and 14 1/2 months in prison, respectively.

The group pleaded guilty last July to conspiring to commit wire fraud and launder money as part of the scheme, which targeted victims from Mexico and Central America, primarily Spanish-speaking non-U.S. citizens.

Co-conspirators working with the foursome called families in the United States, claiming to be holding loved ones of the victims captive and demanding money for their safe release. The victims generally were instructed to send ransom money via MoneyGram or Western Union, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.

After picking up the payments in Southern California, the defendants re- wired or delivered the money to other accomplices in Mexico. The funds were then divided among the defendants and co-conspirators to fund and promote the scheme.

“This has been by far the worst experience of my life,” one victim wrote in a statement to the court. “I could not sleep for days because I was waiting for their phone call to give instructions, since they told me that they would kill my niece if I did not send the money requested. I got sick as a result of not sleeping, not eating well and the stress that I was subjected to and feeling so powerless.”

—City News Service

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