Caught Trying to Collect $80,000 Ransom : 2 Found Guilty of Kidnaping-Robbery

Times Staff Writer

Two North Hollywood men were found guilty Wednesday of kidnaping a restaurateur who was released after 18 hours when he promised to leave an $80,000 ransom in a phone booth.

A jury found Julian Cevallos Vargas, 34, and Jose Francisco Ochoa, 26, both of North Hollywood, each guilty of two counts of kidnaping and one count each of robbery, burglary and conspiracy in a two-week trial before San Fernando Superior Court Judge John H. Major. Both face a possible sentence of life in prison, Deputy Dist. Atty. Maureen Duffy-Lewis said.

A third man charged in the Dec. 8 kidnaping, Luis Roberto Delgadillo, 20, of Los Angeles was acquitted of the kidnaping charges but faces a prison sentence on an unrelated drug conviction, Duffy-Lewis said.

The victim, Leonardo Lopez, testified that he was confronted by a gunman about 4 a.m. when he entered his North Hollywood home.

He was blindfolded, bound hand and foot and driven to a home, Lopez testified. The assailants took $10,000 to $11,000 in cash receipts from his Los Angeles restaurant, he said.

Lopez was forced to make a tape recording that asked his family to pay the kidnapers $200,000. "If they didn't get the money, they said they would kill me and my family," Lopez testified.

In the hours that followed, Lopez said, the kidnapers lowered their ransom demand to $150,000, then to $100,000. Finally, Lopez told jurors, one of the kidnapers said, "We decided we're going to let you go but we are going to rely on your word that you will get the money."

"They told me to bring the money to Lankershim and Magnolia and put it in the telephone booth at the Bob's Big Boy in one hour," Lopez testified.

Instead, Lopez said, he contacted police. No one picked up the package that police undercover officers left in the phone booth, but, a week later, he agreed to leave $80,000 there after receiving threatening phone calls from his kidnapers, Lopez testified.

The police arrested Delgadillo after he retrieved the package from the phone booth on Dec. 16, court records show. Ochoa and Vargas were arrested in a nearby car after a brief chase.

All three men denied kidnaping Lopez. Jurors said after their verdict that they believed Delgadillo did not know about the kidnaping but had only been paid to pick up the package, Duffy-Lewis said.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 23.

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