Home San Diego Press Releases 2013 Three Mexican Drug Cartel Members Sentenced in Plot to Kidnap Drug Debtors

Three Mexican Drug Cartel Members Sentenced in Plot to Kidnap Drug Debtors

U.S. Attorney’s Office December 11, 2013
  • Southern District of California (619) 557-5610

SAN DIEGO, CA—Three Mexican drug cartel members were sentenced today by U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes for their roles in a conspiracy to kidnap San Diego drug dealers and spirit them away to Mexico for violent revenge over unpaid drug debts.

Carlos Alberto Andrade-De La Cruz was sentenced to 130 months in prison, plus five years of supervised release; Luis Miguel Salas-Rodriguez and Antonio Zermeno-Garcia were sentenced 92 months each, plus five years of supervised release.

According to sentencing documents, the defendants suspected other drug dealers in San Diego of stealing their methamphetamine. The trio plotted to kidnap their targets from the United States, take them back to Mexico, and use violence to collect on their debts. The defendants were arrested in San Diego after the leader of this plot, defendant Andrade-De La Cruz, illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico and met the others in front of the home of the first intended victim.

The investigation began in March 2012 when the Cross-Border Violence Group of the Federal Bureau of Investigation learned of a plot to kidnap and extort three unidentified drug debtors in San Diego. Acting on this information, the FBI sought and obtained judicial authorization to wiretap the telephone of one of the leaders of this plot.

Based on the intercepts, the FBI learned that the defendants blamed three San Diego-based drug dealers for stealing their methamphetamine. As a result, one of the enforcers was initially ordered either to extort money from these debtors or to take high-end, luxury vehicles from the debtors by force. Wiretap conversations revealed that as the defendants discussed various plans to collect on the debt, defendant Andrade-De La Cruz became frustrated with delay. He ultimately gave the “green light” for co-defendant Zermeno-Garcia to kidnap the first of the drug debtors. Wiretaps revealed that Zermeno-Garcia told his conspirators that a debtor could be turned into “pozole”—a term used by drug cartels to describe a “soup” made by dissolving a human body in acid.

On March 14, 2012, the defendants intended to carry out the kidnapping. Andrade-De La Cruz illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico with fraudulent documents and met up with Salas-Rodriguez and Zermeno-Garcia. The FBI tracked each of the three defendants to a location near the residence of the first intended victim. Because of an imminent threat to life, the FBI’s SWAT Team immediately arrested all three defendants. The FBI located the intended victim who told agents that he would have ended up in the trunk of a vehicle if the FBI had not intervened.

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Hayes described the defendants' plan as “cold blooded.” In imposing the lengthy terms of incarceration, Judge Hayes stated that he believed that the defendants had every intention to take the victims to Mexico to exact violence.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cross-Border Violence Group and highlights the close connection between narcotics trafficking and violence. The Cross-Border Violence Group is a FBI-led task force composed of federal and local law enforcement from the FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, San Diego Sheriff’s Department, San Diego District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation, and the Chula Vista Police Department. Created in 2009, this task force was designed to respond to immediate threats posed by transnational criminal organizations. The Cross-Border Violence Group responds to numerous kidnapping events each year, which are complicated by the fact that threats often arise outside of the United States.

Defendants in Criminal Case No. 12-CR-1244-WQH

Carlos Alberto Andrade-De La Cruz
Luis Miguel Salas Rodriguez
Antonio Zermeno Garcia

Summary of Charges

Count one: Title 18, United States Code, Section 1201(c)-conspiracy to commit kidnapping;
Maximum penalty: life imprisonment

Investigating Agency

Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cross-Border Violence Group