CALIFORNIA – Former 20 year old Colton, California resident, Leslie Briana Matla, and her 25 year old boyfriend, Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez of Tijuana, Mexico, were arrested on a federal criminal complaint on Sunday, May 17. The defendants allegedly collected ransom money as part of a kidnapping conspiracy where California residents were kidnapped in Mexico and murdered.
The complaint against the couple alleges that Matla crossed the border from Mexico into the United States to gather ransom payments from kidnapped victims’ family members at locations predetermined by her co-conspirators. Co-conspirators include the defendants boyfriend, Juan Sanchez.
Between the dates of of March 28, April 13 and April 22, three men who were residents of San Diego, Norwalk, and Pasadena were kidnapped in Tijuana while conducting business or visiting family members in the country. The victims’ families were notified via telephone call from a Mexican number to deposit ransom money at a specific location for their safe return.
Mexican authorities found the body of the abducted San Diego victim on March 29, 2020. The victims murder came one day after the victim’s adult son placed a bag containing $25,000 inside the women’s restroom of a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California.
The body of the abducted Norwalk victim was found in Mexico on April 14, 2020. The victims murder came one day after the victim’s family made an attempt to pay the $25,000 ransom to a woman, whom law enforcement believe was Matla, at a Lowe’s parking lot in Norwalk.
On April 22, 2020, California law enforcement received a call from a female Pasadena resident reporting a family member kidnapped in Mexico with a ransom demand of $20,000. Calling from a Mexican phone number, the victims kidnappers informed the Pasadena victim’s family that a pregnant woman would pick up the ransom money at a Food 4 Less parking lot in Lynwood, California.
According to court documents, authorities were able to trace the precise location of the origin of the call from the kidnapper via cell phone tower records. That same day, law enforcement rescued the victim who was being held hostage at the same Tijuana hotel as the first two murder victims. Nine suspects were arrested by Mexican authorities at the hotel.
The legal affidavit states that upon review of U.S. border crossing records into Mexico, security camera footage from the various pickup locations, and social media investigation; law enforcement was able to identify Matla as the woman sent to San Ysidro, Norwalk, and Lynwood to pick up ransom money on the dates in question. Records also show that Juan Sanchez received wire transfers from two of the kidnapping victims.
Matla, who is a United States citizen and a current resident of Mexico, was arrested on Thursday, May 14 in San Diego pursuant to the complaint that charged her and her boyfriend with one count of money laundering conspiracy. The defendant made her initial federal court appearance on Friday, May 15 and remains in federal custody.
Matla’s boyfriend, and second defendant Juan Sanchez, was arrested in San Diego on Sunday, May 17 and made his initial court appearance in United States District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, May 18.
If convicted of this charge, Matla and Sanchez will face statutory maximum sentences of life in federal prison. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jeffrey M. Chemerinsky, and Joseph D. Axelrad of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.