Seal of the U.S. District Court for central California.
Seal of the U.S. District Court for central California.

A National City man was sentenced Monday in Los Angeles to a year and a half in federal prison for laundering the money of a violent kidnapping organization that held two dozen Mexican nationals hostage.

Luis Francisco Murillo Morfin, 33, also was ordered by U.S. District Judge John F. Walter to pay $62,000 in restitution to the victims. After a two-day bench trial in October, Walter found Murillo guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

In August 2015, Murillo’s co-conspirators recruited victims in Mexico under the false pretense of being smuggled into the United States. They were picked up in northern Mexico, driven in the trunks of cars through a fake border checkpoint, then were taken to a Tijuana stash house where they were threatened, beaten and raped, according to trial testimony.

The kidnappers then extorted their victims’ relatives in the United States for ransom money, ordering them to send the money via wire transfers to Mexico or to make cash deposits into U.S. bank accounts — including an account that belonged to Murillo, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, federal prosecutors said. Extortion victims testified  that they were threatened that their relatives would be beaten, murdered or disemboweled if the ransom money wasn’t paid.

As the kidnapping victims’ relatives deposited the money, Murrillo twice drove from Mexico to the United States and withdrew ransom payments from his bank account so he could deliver the money to his co-conspirators in Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Murillo opened a Wells Fargo bank account in his name on April 30, 2015, and made monthly payments to keep it open, but did not use the account until August 4, 2015 — one day after his co-conspirators kidnapped and held for ransom nine of their victims, according to evidence presented at trial.

On Aug. 4 and 5, 2015, extortion victims deposited $62,000 in ransom money into Murillo’s account from bank branches in Ontario, Santa Maria, Northern California, Idaho and Mississippi. Less than 48 hours later, Murillo had withdrawn all $62,000, leaving only the $10 minimum to keep the account open, and lied to a Wells Fargo bank employee about how he needed the money to pay for cars.

After his arrest, Murillo told law enforcement that he believed the money he withdrew from the Wells Fargo account was from illegal activity, specifically, human smuggling, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.

Murillo was charged along with four other Mexican nationals, all of whom are believed to be residing in Mexico. The other defendants are: Jesus Antonio Rivera “The Cook” Gaxiola, Manuel Roman “The Caller” Velazquez, Alberto Jimenez “Jefe” Bautista, and Luis Perez Martinez.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.