Three people were arrested at a Santa Maria motel on Friday during an FBI-led operation on suspicion of kidnapping a 17-year-old boy in San Bernardino County and holding him for ransom on the Central Coast.
Fidel Jesús Patino Jaimes, 22, Jair Tomás Ramos Domínguez, 26, and Ezequiel Felix López, 27, all of whom told law enforcement they were from Santa Maria, were charged Friday evening with kidnapping, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The incident occurred at 5:20 a.m. at the Motel 6 at 1007 E. Main St.
According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, the defendants allegedly caused a Sept. 18 traffic accident in which the victim — a 17-year-old boy — crashed into their silver-colored Jeep Grand Cherokee.
When the boy exited his vehicle, the defendants allegedly forced him into their Jeep.
Hours later, the victim’s mother received a telephone call from a Mexican phone number with a demand for $500,000 to be delivered to an unspecified location in Nogales, Mexico.
The caller also blamed the abduction on the victim’s father.
A short time later, the victim’s mother’s cellphone received a WhatsApp video from a different Mexican telephone number.
The video showed the victim in the backseat of the Jeep reading from a script that the abduction was his father’s fault. The boy referred to an incident that occurred in New York before reading, “You know what you stole.”
In the following days, the victim’s mother received multiple phone calls from different Mexican telephone numbers in which the speaker demanded money and threatened to cut off parts of the victim’s body if payment wasn’t made.
They also reduced the ransom demand to $100,000, which was not paid.
Law enforcement ultimately tracked the defendants down to a motel in Santa Maria, in part by identifying the vehicle used during the kidnapping in a Facebook Marketplace posting and by reviewing Ring door camera footage of the kidnapping.
In one of the Santa Maria motel’s rooms, law enforcement officers Friday found the three defendants — one of whom tossed a firearm onto the floor — and the victim, who was lying on the floor in a corner of the room, according to the affidavit.
The FBI and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department are investigating the matter.
“Few things can be as terrorizing to a parent as having your child kidnapped and held for ransom under threat of physical harm,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said. “Together with the FBI and our local law enforcement partners, we have acted swiftly to rescue the victim and bring the abductors to justice. I commend the agents and officers for their heroic efforts to free the victim and prevent a devastating tragedy from occurring.”
The Santa Maria Police Department provided substantial assistance in the action, federal officials said.
Santa Maria police had declined to comment on the operation, saying it involved “an outside municipal and federal agency.”
“In contrary to what is being said on social media, no gunshots were fired during the incident. The specifics regarding the investigation are being withheld at this time to protect the investigation. More information will be released at a later time,” police said.
The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearances on Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
They face a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment.