SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Three Mexican cartel members were handed sentences Wednesday ranging from 7 1/2 to nearly 11 years for their roles in a scheme to abduct drug dealers and spirit them south of the border for violent revenge over unpaid debts.
U.S. District Judge William Hayes sentenced Carlos Alberto Andrade-De La Cruz of Tijuana to 130 months in custody plus five years of supervised release, and ordered San Diego residents Antonio Zermeno-Garcia and Luis Miguel Salas-Rodriguez to each serve 92 months behind bars, plus five years of parole.
The judge said he believed that the defendants had every intention to carry out their "cold-blooded" scheme.
According to sentencing documents, the defendants suspected other drug dealers of stealing methamphetamine and plotted to kidnap them, take them to Mexico and use violence to avenge the betrayal and collect on their debts.
The defendants were arrested in San Diego after the accused leader of the plot, Andrade-De La Cruz, 36, illegally crossed into the United States and met the others in front of the home of the first intended victim, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego.
The investigation began in March 2012, when the FBI Cross-Border Violence Group learned of the alleged plot. In response to the intelligence, the FBI sought and obtained judicial authorization to wiretap the telephone of one of the suspects.
Based on the resulting intercepts, the FBI learned that a cartel "enforcer" had been ordered either to extort money from the targeted San Diego dealers or take luxury vehicles from them by force.
The wiretapped conversations revealed that as the defendants discussed various plans to collect on the debt, defendant Andrade-De La Cruz gave a go-ahead for Zermeno Garcia, 30, to kidnap one of the debtors.
Zermeno-Garcia told his conspirators that a debtor could be turned into "pozole," or soup -- a term used by drug cartels to describe the results of dissolving a human body in acid, according to prosecutors.
On March 14, 2012, the defendants allegedly put the kidnapping plan into motion. Andrade-De La Cruz crossed into the United States from Mexico with fraudulent documents and met up with Salas-Rodriguez, 26, and Zermeno-Garcia.
The FBI tracked the defendants to a location near the residence of the first intended victim.
There, an FBI SWAT team immediately arrested the suspected conspirators. Agents then located the intended victim, who told them he would have "ended up in the trunk of a vehicle" if authorities had not intervened.