A federal jury today found two Los Angeles-area men guilty of collecting ransom payments for a criminal conspiracy in which multiple victims were kidnapped near the United States-Mexico border.
Edgar Adrian Hernandez Lemus, 23, of Vernon, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and two counts of receiving money from a ransom demand for the release of a kidnapped person. Junior Almendarez Martinez, 23, of Watts, was found guilty of two counts of receiving money from a ransom demand for the release of a kidnapped person.
According to evidence presented at their three-day trial, the kidnapping incidents targeted victims who either were waiting or attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. In each incident, the kidnappers offered to assist in smuggling the victims across the border from Mexico, but instead would hold them for ransom. The kidnappers insisted on ransom payments from the victim’s family members to release the victims.
From March 29 to June 1, 2021, the kidnappers used specific sections at Walmart and other stores in Southern California to meet with the family members to collect the ransom payments. After the payments were made, however, the kidnappers demanded additional money rather than releasing the victims.
Lemus and Almendarez traveled to these stores to pick up ransom payments from the family members of the kidnapped victims. During many of the ransom pickups, the family members of the kidnapped victims remained on the phone with members of the conspiracy who would direct them towards Lemus – who was often on the phone during the ransom pickups. At these stores, Lemus and Almendarez would enter and collect, or attempt to collect, ransom payments from kidnapped victims’ family members. The ransom payments picked up by defendants ranged from $12,000 to $30,000 in cash.
After the ransom pickups, Lemus and Almendarez would use Uber to transport the money, before eventually sending money to co-conspirators in Mexico via MoneyGram.
United States District Judge John F. Walter has scheduled a January 10, 2022 sentencing hearing, at which time Lemus will face a statutory maximum sentence of 11 years in federal prison and Almendarez will face a statutory maximum sentence of eight years in federal prison.
A co-defendant and fellow ransom collector, Francisco Javier Hernandez Martinez, 21, of Vernon, pleaded guilty on September 7 to one count of conspiracy. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison at his sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for November 29.
The FBI investigated this matter. The South Gate Police Department and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorneys Jeffrey M. Chemerinsky and Joseph D. Axelrad of the Violent and Organized Crime Section are prosecuting this case.
Ciaran McEvoy, USAO Public Information Officer