SAN DIEGO—Late last month, San Diego Sector’s Foreign Operations Branch collaborated with Mexican officials to secure the freedom of three kidnapped victims who were being held hostage in Mexico.
On July 30, 2014, three U.S. families received calls from a kidnapping organization in Mexico demanding a ransom for the release of a family member. One family contacted the Border Patrol’s Border Violence Response Unit, known in Mexico as OMEGA, for assistance in obtaining the release of their family member. Through their investigative efforts, OMEGA was able to obtain information about a second victim and worked with their family as well.
The OMEGA Unit provided Mexico’s Attorney General of the State (PGJE) with information about the kidnappings. They also referred the victim’s relatives to the Tijuana PGJE in order to file a complaint, which is required in Mexico in order to initiate an investigation.
Using information collected from the Border Patrol’s OMEGA unit and the victims’ families, PGJE investigators quickly identified the stash house being used to hold the hostages. Moving in, they arrested three kidnappers and rescued the three migrants. PGJE also located a .44 caliber Magnum handgun in the stash house. The kidnappers were identified as Luis Roberto Barraza Zavala, Armando Vargas Suastegui, and Santiago Lopez Gallardo.
The three victims told officials they agreed to pay $4,500 to be smuggled into the U.S., a fee that was to be paid by their families. Instead, they were led to a stash house where they were handcuffed and beaten. The smugglers then demanded $5,000 from each family. According to the migrant victims, Barraza Zavala lured them by convincing them he could further their entry into the U.S. by providing false documents.
The victims’ phones were used by the criminals to contact U.S. family members and extort money for their release. Barraza Zavala, also known as “El Bordo,” was identified as the leader of the kidnapping crew, which operated in the East Zone of Tijuana. His share of the ransom was $2,500 dollars per kidnapping.
The PGJE seized the stash house and a California-plated 1992 Honda Accord, however, they are still seeking the individuals who collected the money transfers.
To prevent the illicit smuggling of humans, drugs, and other contraband, the U.S. Border Patrol maintains a high level of vigilance on corridors of egress away from our Nation’s borders. To report suspicious activity to the U.S. Border Patrol, contact San Diego Sector at (619) 498-9900.