A Los Angeles-area man pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal charge for his involvement in a ring that collected ransom from people whose family members had been kidnapped in Mexico.

Francisco Hernandez Martinez, 20, of Vernon entered his plea to conspiracy, a charge carrying a penalty of up to five years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Sentencing is set for Nov. 22.

The ring pretended to offer assistance to people who wanted to cross the border but instead held them for ransom and sometimes demanded additional money after receiving payments, federal prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Hernandez and other members of the ring picked up ransom payments from relatives at stores throughout the area.

Hernandez admitted to collecting $19,000 in May at a Walmart store in Paramount from the husband of a woman kidnapped in Mexicali, according to his plea agreement. He also admitted to receiving $26,000 in June at a Target store in South Gate from a relative of two kidnapped family members.

Edgar Lemus, 23, of Vernon, and Junior Martinez, 23, of Watts are also charged in the case. They are expected to go on trial in November.

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