Two Mexican citizens were accused Wednesday of taking illegal immigrants hostage and threatening them with torture unless they raised money for ransom, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The federal indictment accuses Ramiro Alapizco-Valenzuela, 29, and Rene Cota-Beltran, 27, of taking 30 immigrants hostage in Arizona on Jan. 18 and demanding $2,000 from each of them. They threatened to cut off the immigrants' fingers, hands or ears if they did not pay, prosecutors said.
They and the immigrants were found when their van had a flat tire.
Alapizco-Valenzuela and Cota-Beltran were charged with conspiracy to take hostages and conspiracy to knowingly transport aliens unlawfully in the United States. They also face separate counts of taking hostages and knowingly transporting aliens unlawfully in the United States.
The case represents a disturbing trend in illegal immigration, U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren said.
"Trafficking in illegal aliens is becoming a growing source of income for organized crime operations," he said. "It is profitable and low risk because the victims are not likely to complain or contact law enforcement."
Cyd Gilman, the defense attorney representing Alapizco-Valenzuela, said Wednesday she had just read the indictment and could not comment. Philip White, the attorney for Cota-Beltran, was out of the office and did not immediately return a message.