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Published on April 24, 2024
Guatemalan Brothers Plead Guilty to Kidnapping, Hostage-Taking of Immigrants in EscondidoSource: Google Street View

Guatemalan citizen Virves Pablo-Francisco and his brother Nicolas Pablo-Francisco have both pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and hostage-taking of three unauthorized immigrants in a scheme for ransom, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced. The younger brother, Nicolas, had already admitted to his crimes in February, while Virves's plea agreement was disclosed in federal court yesterday.

Virves Pablo-Francisco, aged 22, detailed in his plea agreement the abduction of a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan on June 13, 2023, noting that he and his accomplices also held a father and son from Ecuador hostage in a residence in Escondido. According to court documents, the ransoms demanded ranged from $4,000 to $10,000 per individual for their release. In a distressing account, Virves admitted withholding food from the Ecuadorian victims and telling them they must pay extra if they sought sustenance.

The ordeal came to light when the family member of the teenage hostage received a ransom demand from the brothers, prompting them to contact law enforcement. This tip triggered an overnight operation led by the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force in coordination with various agencies, including ICE, the San Diego Police Department, and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office. As stated by the U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI agents were able to locate the hostages the following morning in an Escondido house, executing a search warrant with the aid of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Nicolas, the 20-year-old brother, is expected to face his judgment on May 6, and Virves's sentencing is set for July 15. Both face a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine for hostage-taking charges. U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath lauded the courage of the family member who reported the crime, saying, "These victims are safe because a family member was brave enough to seek help from law enforcement officials." McGrath's conveyed via the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California.

"These guilty pleas demonstrate the FBI’s commitment to bringing kidnapping victims home safely," said FBI San Diego Acting Special Agent in Charge John Kim through the U.S. Attorney's Office report. The arrests and guilty pleas of the Pablo-Francisco brothers underscore the risks faced by unauthorized immigrants at the hands of criminal smugglers looking to exploit their vulnerability. Their case, prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert J. Miller, Jordan Arakawa, and David Eugene Fawcett, marks a significant win in the fight to dismantle human smuggling operations that jeopardize the lives of migrants seeking a new beginning.