Four people pleaded guilty Tuesday to being part of a "virtual" kidnapping ring that duped 128 Latino families into paying ransom to free relatives from kidnappings that never occurred.
The four defendants targeted the families of people from Mexico and Central America, calling them and demanding ransom, according to court documents. Almost $200,000 was collected, prosecutors said.
Ruth Graciela Raygoza, 63, of Chula Vista; Maria Del Carmen Pulido Contreras, 42, of Los Angeles; and Adrian Joyan Rocha, 26, and Jonathan Rocha, 24, both of Tijuana, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to wire fraud and money laundering.
The families were warned to send money through MoneyGram or Western Union or their relatives would be harmed, and possibly killed, according to court documents.
"The defendants showed no compassion for the emotional agony of victims who believed their loved ones were being held captive and might never return," U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy said.