Two men promised to smuggle Cuban migrants into the United States via Mexico, but instead they tortured and extorted their victims, prosecutors say.
Reynaldo Marquez Crespo, 41, and Jancer Sergio Ramos Valdes, 33, both Cuban, face charges of alien smuggling and kidnapping in South Florida federal court.
Crespo and Valdez promised their victims safe passage across the Yucatan Straits, the body of water that separates Cuba from Mexico, on go-fast boats and then over land across Mexico to the United States border sometime during January 2019, according to court documents.
But the migrants were in for a rude awakening after Crespo, Valdez and a group of other unnamed suspects took them from Cuba by boat to Merida, Mexico.
There, the migrants were locked in a house and forced to turn over contact information for family members in the United States who could pay a $10,000 ransom, according to court documents.
Then, the men reached out to relatives and threatened to torture, starve or kill their victims if the family members didn’t pay, according to a federal criminal complaint.
It wasn’t an idle threat. Family members of the victims received videos of beatings and torture sessions featuring their captured relatives, court records say. They were told their relatives would be deprived of food and water if they didn’t pay.
A federal criminal complaint against Crespo and Valdez mentions at least three victims, some with family members living in Miami.
All three of the victims, their narratives recorded in court records, report witnessing the smugglers beat and electrocute other kidnapped migrants. One told the FBI his captors showed him a cellphone video where they chopped off someone’s finger with a shovel after their family couldn’t cough up the cash.
Another smuggling victim, who had medical issues and wore a colostomy bag, was stripped naked, tied up and stunned with a taser. Then the kidnappers sent a video of the torture to his family members in Las Vegas, according to the complaint.
Once the family members of the victims paid the ransom, the victims were placed on a bus and transported to the U.S.-Mexico border, which they were instructed to cross and then ask for asylum.
The FBI interviewed one victim after they crossed the border, and that victim managed to pick Crespo and Valdez out of a lineup of photos, according to the complaint. The complaint says the victim also identified Crespo as a leader of the operation.
During the investigation, the FBI managed to track down one unnamed Miami-based co-conspirator via their social media profile. The co-conspirator had helped wire money to the kidnappers back in Mexico for the victim’s ransom, the complaint says.
The kidnappers contacted a second victim’s Miami-based family in January 2019 and said their relative would be beaten and killed if they didn’t fork over $7,000, according to court records. Later, the victim told the FBI that an unnamed kidnapper “told the group that he had raped the wives of other victims he had previously kidnapped as a form of payment,” according to court records.
The kidnappers held the person for 10 days until his family paid the ransom, according to court records.
The Las Vegas-based family of the third victim immediately called the FBI after being contacted by the kidnappers. Agents recorded several of the calls where ransom was negotiated, according to court records. During the third victim’s captivity, an unnamed migrant Cuban escaped from the kidnappers hideout and alerted Mexican authorities, who freed an unknown number of captives.
Federal authorites captured Crespo in Texas. Valdes was arrested in Connecticut, where a federal magistrate judge ordered that he be held without bail pending trial. Both men face charges of conspiring to induce aliens to come to the United States and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. If convicted, they could face a maximum of 20 years in prison for kidnapping and a maximum of 15 years for human smuggling.
Attorneys for Crespo and Valdez could not be reached for comment.
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