HOUSTON – A woman is in custody Thursday, suspected of participating in a virtual kidnapping for ransom scheme across three states, U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas says.
Yanette Rodriquez Acosta, 34, was indicted on Tuesday, and taken into custody Thursday.
“These types of cases are tragic,” Martinez said in a statement. “It’s not the amount of money involved; it’s the fact that these people are tricked into believing their loved ones are in danger and the horror and helplessness they feel as they scramble to secure what they think is their release. It is important for people to know about these scams and to be cautious and mindful when getting these types of calls.”
According to a release sent out by Martinez's office, Acosta is accused of being part of a scheme in which Mexican telephone numbers were used to call victims throughout the United States in Texas, California and Idaho, attempting to extort money.
The victims were told to wire money to people in Mexico, officials said.
Two of the victims were instructed to take the money to drops at specified locations in the Houston area. Martinez said on Sept. 17 and Sept. 30, 2015, both victims were told their daughters were kidnapped as a result of witnessing a crime and their daughter's fingers would be cut off if they didn't follow their demands.
The victims paid about $28,000, according to the indictment.
Officials said Acosta is accused of picking up the ransom payments from the victims' money drops, keeping her portion of the money and wiring the rest to her co-conspirators in Mexico. It is suspected Acosta recruited additional payments to be sent to Mexico, according to the indictment.
Acosta is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money. Each charge carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Multiple FBI, IRS and sheriff's agencies across California, Texas and Idaho assisted in the investigation.