LOS ANGELES – Two Los Angeles men were sentenced today to federal prison terms for 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 the Central-Alameda neighborhood in Los Angeles, was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison by United States District Judge John F. Walter. At a separate hearing today, Judge Walter sentenced Junior Almendarez Martinez, 23, of Watts, to 24 months’ imprisonment.
At the conclusion of a three-day jury trial in November 2021, Lemus 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. Almendarez was found guilty of two counts of receiving money from a ransom demand for the release of a kidnapped person.
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 used Uber to transport the money, before eventually sending money to co-conspirators in Mexico via MoneyGram. The victims later were assaulted, drugged and released.
In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors argued that Lemus “was a key part of a brutal kidnapping for ransom scheme.
“During this scheme, numerous victims were subjected to horrific abuse,” prosecutors wrote. “The horror of the kidnappings and ransom payment is a trauma that these victims will never forget.”
A co-defendant and fellow ransom collector, Francisco Javier Hernandez Martinez, 21, of the Central-Alameda neighborhood in Los Angeles, pleaded guilty in September 2021 to one count of conspiracy and later was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison.
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 prosecuted this case.