Valley hostage-taking brings 10-year prison sentence

April 26, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES — A man arrested in the Imperial Valley and convicted of holding undocumented immigrants hostage in the Los Angeles area was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Monday.

Leonel Estudillo-Martinez pleaded guilty to a federal hostage-taking charge before U.S. District Judge George H. King on Jan. 25

Estudillo-Martinez, 17, stood trial as an adult due to the severity of the crimes.

The arrest came after combined efforts of the U.S. Border Patrol El Centro sector anti-smuggling unit, Los Angeles District's anti-smuggling unit and the Los Angeles Police Department.

This investigation involved the beating and rapes of smuggled immigrants in the Los Angeles area to compel family members to pay for their smuggling fees.

U.S. Border Patrol agents from the El Centro station originally arrested Estudillo-Martinez in Calipatria while he was attempting to transport a load of undocumented immigrants.


At the time of his arrest, agents did not know of his involvement with the beating, rapes and hostage holding in Los Angeles, said El Centro sector public information officer Arturo Sandoval.

While Estudillo-Martinez was in Border Patrol custody in El Centro, he used the telephone to call a female material witness who was identified in the investigation. In the call, he expressed regret for his action and begged her for forgiveness.

The woman had been smuggled into the country in November 1999. After arriving in the Los Angeles area, she was sexually assaulted several times, tortured and beaten over a period of days. Her boyfriend, also a material witness, was bound, gagged and forced to watch the assaults on her.

The smuggled immigrants were then abandoned in the desert near Niland.

As this investigation continues, 14 smugglers have been convicted in the case.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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