A Texas woman has been sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison for her role in a ‘virtual kidnapping’ extortion scam with ties to Mexico.
Yanette Rodriguez Acosta, 35, was sentenced on Thursday after pleading guilty in February to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Investigators last year warned about the scam, in which callers from Mexico tell parents that their children have been abducted and demand ransoms.
Acosta, who lives in Houston, made people in three different states pay a ransom after her co-conspirators in Mexico made them believe their children had been kidnapped and tortured.
She targeted parents in California, Idaho and Texas as part of the scam.
Yanette Rodriguez Acosta, 35, was sentenced on Thursday after pleading guilty in February to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering
Victims testified on Thursday that callers threatened them and their families if they reported the crime.
The court also considered written victim impact statements.
In one instance, a couple was informed that they could find their child at a nearby middle school. When the couple couldn’t locate their son, they searched nearby dumpsters for the child’s body.
Two victims from 2015 were told their daughters were kidnapped because they witnessed a crime and that the daughters’ fingers would be cut off if the parents didn’t follow demands. Those parents made money drops in Houston totaling $28,000.
‘This is a disgusting crime that preyed on a parent’s love for a child,’ U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick said.
‘Even though there was no actual kidnapping, the crime was designed to be very real to the victims.’
The elaborate scheme would begin with callers phoning the parents who would then hear a gasping voice calling ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ on the phone.
The parents would often respond with their child’s name, which unbeknownst to them was giving the caller the information they needed to then extort the family.
The caller would then refer to the child by name and claim to have kidnapped them.
Threatening bodily harm, rape and murder if the line was disconnected, many parents were forced to remain on speakerphone for hours while driving to banks and to various Western Union and MoneyGram locations.
In some cases, victims were instructed to make cash drops at specified locations in Houston.
After confirming the wire transfer or money drop, the perpetrators instructed the victims to call the child, who had never been actually kidnapped, or to wait for the child at a specific location, knowing the child would not be there.