A San Diego County man faces sentencing in February for laundering ransom money for a violent kidnapping organization that held hostage two dozen Mexican nationals.

Luis Francisco Murillo Morfin, 33, of National City, was found guilty Wednesday in Los Angeles of conspiracy to commit money laundering. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter issued the verdict after a two-day bench trial.

The kidnapping victims were lured by false promises of being smuggled into the United States. In August 2015, members of the Mexico-based conspiracy picked up victims in Northern Mexico, drove them in the trunks of cars through a fake border “checkpoint,” and then took them to a stash house in Tijuana, where they were threatened, beaten and raped. One kidnapping victim testified at trial about being raped, while another testified about being sexually assaulted.

While the kidnapping victims were held hostage in Tijuana, their captors extorted their relatives in the U.S., ordering them to deposit ransom money in U.S. bank accounts and wire ransom money to co-conspirators in Mexico. Extortion victims testified at trial about being threatened that, if they did not pay, their relatives would be beaten, murdered or disemboweled.

As relatives of the kidnapping victims deposited money, Murillo, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, twice drove from Mexico to the U.S. and withdrew the ransom payments from his bank account for delivery to his co-conspirators to Mexico.

The evidence at trial showed that Murillo opened a Wells Fargo bank account in his name on April 30, 2015, and made monthly payments to keep it open, but did not use the account until Aug. 4, 2015 — one day after his co-conspirators kidnapped and held for ransom nine victims.

The extortion victims deposited $62,000 in ransom money into Murillo’s account from bank branches in Ontario, Santa Maria, Northern California, Idaho and Mississippi. Murillo withdrew all $62,000 within less than 48 hours, lying to a Wells Fargo bank employee about the money’s purpose.

Murillo did not use the account again, and Wells Fargo closed it on Aug. 19, 2015. Murillo later admitted to law enforcement that he knew the money constituted the proceeds of criminal activity.

Murillo faces up to 10 years in federal prison at sentencing on Feb. 4, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Murillo was charged along with four other defendants, all of whom are Mexican nationals believed to be living in Mexico.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.