LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury today returned an indictment against six members of a Tijuana, Mexico-based hostage-taking organization that allegedly kidnapped nine victims and murdered six of them – including three United States citizens – some of them after their families paid ransom for their release.
The five-count indictment charges all six defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, and one count of extortion. The charged defendants, all Mexican nationals, are:
- German Garcia Yera Hernandez, 37, the indictment’s lead defendant and the alleged ringleader of the hostage-for-ransom organization;
- Gilberto Omar Avila Lopez, 27, a.k.a. “Luis Enrique Avila Moreno” and “Omar;”
- Aylin Estrada Reyes, 24;
- Joel Eduardo Mascorro Delgado, 22;
- Victoria Camila Espinoza Ballardo, 22; and
- Oscar Bautista Valencia, 30
- Yera, Lopez and Ballardo each face an additional count of hostage taking resulting in death and extortion. All six defendants are in custody in Mexico facing charges filed by authorities there.
According to the indictment, from January 2020 to April 2020, Yera led the hostage-taking organization that extorted money from victims by taking hostage and holding for ransom United States nationals and Mexican nationals with relatives in the United States.
The hostage-taking group generally lured their victims into meetings under false pretenses and took them hostage, the indictment states. The group allegedly held the victims at gunpoint, tied them up, and often brutally beat them. Members of the group then called victims’ family members in the United States and demanded money and vehicles as ransom in return for the release of their loved ones, according to the indictment. If victims did not have family members who could pay ransom, they were murdered, as happened with what the indictment calls “Victim A,” “Victim B” and “Victim I.”
In other instances outlined in the indictment in which ransoms were paid, Yera and other conspirators allegedly killed the victims to protect the conspiracy. Other members of the organization traveled from Mexico into the United States to locations selected by Yera and others to collect the ransom payments made by the victims’ family members. For example, on March 28, 2020, a co-conspirator traveled to collect ransom payment on Yera’s behalf at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro. After the murder of this victim, the indictment alleges that Yera sent Lopez a message depicting a large amount of cash and wrote “this was good job done.”
On April 11, 2020, Yera and co-conspirators allegedly orchestrated the hostage taking of a victim identified in court documents as “Victim E,” a United States national who resided in Norwalk and who was at the time visiting a family member in Tijuana. Victim E was forced to call his mother, say he was in trouble and instruct her to call an individual to pay $25,000 for his release. The victim’s mother struggled to obtain the ransom money but agreed to pay the hostage takers $1,000 and Victim E’s vehicle in exchange for Victim E’s release and met up with a ransom collector in Norwalk on April 13, 2020 – the same day Victim E was murdered. His body was recovered in Mexico the next day.
On April 22, 2020, a Pasadena woman called law enforcement to report a family member, identified in the indictment as “Victim H,” had been kidnapped in Mexico with a ransom demand of $20,000. One of the kidnappers, calling from a Mexican phone number, informed the victim’s family that a woman would pick up the ransom money at a Food 4 Less parking lot in Lynwood. That same day, law enforcement in Mexico rescued the victim, who was being held hostage at a Tijuana hotel.
If convicted of all charges, the defendants would face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The FBI is investigating this matter and believes there may be victims who have not yet been identified. The FBI asks that anyone contacted by the defendants relative to a kidnapping or a ransom payment call the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565.
Assistant United States Attorneys Jeffrey M. Chemerinsky and Joseph D. Axelrad of the Violent and Organized Crime Section are prosecuting this case.