LOS ANGELES – A man who laundered ransom money for a violent kidnapping organization that held hostage two dozen Mexican nationals has been convicted on federal conspiracy charges.
Luis Francisco Murillo Morfin, 33, of National City, was found guilty Wednesday of conspiracy to commit money laundering. United States 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 United States, 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 United States 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 August 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 August 19, 2015. Murillo later admitted to law enforcement that he knew the money constituted the proceeds of criminal activity.
Judge Walter is scheduled to sentence Murillo on February 4, 2019, at which time he will face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
Murillo was charged along with four other defendants, all of whom are Mexican nationals believed to be residing in Mexico. The other defendants are: Jesus Antonio Rivera Gaxiola, a.k.a. “The Cook,” Manuel Roman Velazquez, a.k.a. “The Caller,” Alberto Jimenez Bautista, a.k.a. “Jefe,” and Luis Perez Martinez.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS Criminal Investigation, with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Victoria Degtyareva and Carley Palmer of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Section.