Houston woman arrested in phony kidnapping-for-ransom scheme across three states

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A Houston woman is behind bars in connection with what authorities called a “virtual” kidnapping-for-ransom scheme that spanned three U.S. states, according to federal officials.

The woman – 34-year-old Yanette Rodriguez Acosta, also known as  Yanette Patino – was charged Tuesday in a sealed indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money, according to the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday when Acosta was arrested.

Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Texas.

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Acosta is accused of participating in a scheme that demanded ransom money from the families of 39 different victims in Texas, California and Idaho, according to the indictment.

Acosta is accused of picking up and pocketing a portion of two ransom payments in Houston from people who were told their daughters had been kidnapped.

The payments totaled $28,000. They were left at different locations in the Houston area on Sept. 17, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2015, according to the indictment. 

Both people who left the ransoms said they were told their daughters had witnessed a crime, and their daughters’ fingers would be cut off if their parents didn’t send the money, according to the indictment.

Acosta is believed to have wired the rest of the money to co-conspirators in Mexico, and is accused of recruiting others to send several thousand dollars, throughout September and October 2015, to Mexico.

Court records available Thursday did not include the name of Acosta’s lawyer.

The Los Angeles field offices of the FBI and the IRS and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills police departments in California, and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas conducted the investigation.

The agencies were assisted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigation in Los Angeles.

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