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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, October 16, 2021

San Diego, California: Two Indicted for Drug Trafficking and Hostage Taking

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat 

A federal magistrate judge denied bond today for one of two Mexican nationals indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the kidnapping and death of a 19-year-old San Diego man in May of 2020.

The defendant, Wyatt Valencia-Pacheco of Tijuana, is charged along with fugitive Jonathan Emmanuel Montellano-Mora, also from Tijuana. They were indicted on June 3, 2021, for Hostage Taking Resulting in Death, Conspiracy to Take Hostages Resulting in Death, and Intentional Killing While Engaged in Drug Trafficking. The indictment was unsealed last week.

According to the indictment, Valencia and Montellano worked with others to arrange the killing of the victim, M.A.R., as part of their methamphetamine importation and trafficking activities.

The indictment further alleges that Valencia and Montellano worked with others to kidnap, detain and threaten the victim at a location outside the United States, in order to compel the victim’s family to pay with money or methamphetamine to gain his release. The victim was ultimately killed.

At Valencia’s detention hearing today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison H. Goddard, the government provided greater detail as to Valencia’s alleged involvement. 

The government identified the victim as a 19-year-old U.S. citizen who had been arrested twice before for strapping drugs onto his body and attempting to cross into the United States through a port of entry. The victim was tortured and killed over the theft of three pounds of methamphetamine, the government told the court.  

At the hearing, the government provided the following chronology of the alleged crimes:

On May 28, 2020, the victim stole three pounds of methamphetamine from a drug trafficker connected to the defendants in Tijuana. 

Almost immediately after the theft, Valencia started sending the victim threats over Facebook Messenger, ordering the victim to return the drugs immediately or pay them $2,000. In Spanish, Valencia told the victim that he “fucked up” and now had to take responsibility, because “they only gave us two hours to pay for that shit.”

The victim asked for more time or a smaller payment, to which Valencia responded: “I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but I want it today.” The victim asked for Valencia to trust him and promised to pay later. Valencia replied, “I don’t give a fuck. You’ll see how I make you pay today.” Valencia even told others that he planned to kidnap the victim.

On May 29, 2020, approximately four hours after the victim was supposed to have crossed the drugs, Valencia was in conversation with a co-conspirator on Facebook Messenger, assuring the co-conspirator that he (Valencia) was in touch with the victim, and they would find him. Valencia assured his co-conspirator that the victim was scared.

About eleven hours later, at a little after 11 a.m. that same day, Valencia told a girlfriend that he was angry, because a guy stole “work” from him, and Valencia was looking for the guy. When asked why he was looking for the guy, Valencia answered, “because I’m going to kill him.” 

Valencia said he gave the guy until 5 p.m. to return and pay for the “work,” or else Valencia was “going to send people to his house … here and there … here I’m going to shoot it up.”

About an hour later, Valencia communicated with a co-conspirator to plan how best to kidnap the victim.

At 11:57 p.m. on May 29, 2020, three males forcibly took the victim from a hotel in Tijuana at gunpoint. The event was captured by hotel surveillance cameras. One of the kidnappers was wielding a gun, which he used to beat the victim.

In the early morning hours of May 30, 2020, the kidnappers began contacting the victim’s mother and stepfather to demand money (sometimes $2,000, other times $3,000) or methamphetamine. The hostage takers permitted the victim’s family to see him through FaceTime, as proof of life. The victim appeared bloodied and beaten.

During this same time, a co-conspirator asked Valencia, “Hey, dude, give us ideas where we can get him signed,” that is, where to kill the victim.  

After a few minutes, and after insisting that he did not want to get further involved, Valencia answered the previous question about “where can we get him signed.” Valencia offered, “Smoke the guy by the dam, dude. Or by Cerro Colorado. … Or in the canal. It’s around the corner.” 

The co-conspirator asked, “Which canal?” To which Valencia responded, “The one by La Rapida (laughs)”

The family’s last contact with the victim occurred on May 30, 2020, at 12:30 p.m. No one has heard from or seen the victim since that time.

At the close of the hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Goddard detained Valencia, finding that there were no conditions of release which would guarantee his return to court. 

She detained the defendant based on the nature and circumstances of the criminal activity, the lengthy period of incarceration which the defendant faced, the defendant’s use of weapons, the fact that he would be subject to immigration removal to Mexico if he were released from custody, his significant ties outside the United States, and the weight of the evidence against him.

“The narcotic netherworld is full of extreme danger and tragedy, and this case is no exception,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “A misguided young man tangled with the wrong people and paid a terrible price, and now his family lives with the unspeakable horror of their loss. 

We will always seek justice for victims of drug-related violence that destroys families, communities and futures.” Grossman thanked prosecutors Mario Peia and Alexandra Foster, as well as the investigating FBI agents, for their excellent work on this case.

“The FBI will vigorously pursue justice for U.S. citizens who fall victim to violence regardless of where the crime occurs,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “The victim was killed over a $2,000 drug debt. May these charges serve as a warning to those who think violence against U.S. citizens committed outside of the United States exempts them from prosecution here; It does not.”

Valencia is next in court on December 16, 2021, at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge William Q. Hayes. Montellano has not yet been apprehended.

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