FBI rescues 17-year-old kidnapped in Highland and held for ransom at motel in Santa Barbara County

ByJosh Campbell and Emma Tucker, CNNWire
Sunday, September 24, 2023
FBI rescues teen kidnapped in Highland, held for ransom
An FBI special weapons and tactics team stormed a Santa Barbara County motel Friday morning, rescuing a kidnapped 17-year-old boy who was being held for ransom.

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- An FBI special weapons and tactics team stormed a Santa Barbara County motel Friday morning, rescuing a kidnapped 17-year-old boy who was being held for ransom, a law enforcement source familiar with the operation told CNN.

Fidel Jesús Patino Jaimes, Jair Tomás Ramos Domínguez and Ezequiel Felix López were arrested during the operation in Santa Maria and charged with kidnapping, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Kidnapping carries a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison, according to a statement from the US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

No shots were fired in the arrests, the source said.

CNN is attempting to locate attorneys for the defendants via court records and the US Attorney's office and has sought comment from the FBI.

Alleged abduction caught on camera

The criminal complaint alleges that last Monday, someone in Highland, heard a loud bang outside their home and then reviewed their Ring camera footage. The person saw that two men had taken the victim from his vehicle and pulled him into a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee, the complaint said.

Upon seeing the Ring footage, the investigator noticed front damage to the vehicle that the 17-year-old victim had been driving, according to the complaint. This led the investigator to believe that the alleged kidnappers' Jeep had caused an accident, which had triggered the teen to exit his vehicle. The teen was then forced into the Jeep.

Several hours later, the boy's mother received a phone call from a Mexican number, and the caller demanded the delivery of $500,000 to an unspecified location in Nogales, Mexico, for his return, the complaint reads. Shortly thereafter, the mother also received a video via WhatsApp, showing her son in the back seat of a vehicle. According to the complaint, the victim appeared to be reading from a script, saying that the abduction was his father's fault for an incident that took place in Yonkers, New York, and that his father "knew what he stole."

Over the next few days, the victim's mother continued to receive phone calls from Mexican phone numbers, the complaint detailed.

The kidnappers threatened to cut off parts of the teenager's body if the payment wasn't made, the complaint said. The ransom was eventually dropped to $100,000 after the victim's mother said she did not have $500,000.

Sophisticated surveillance

On Wednesday, FBI agents tracked down a telephone number associated with the suspect's vehicle, which had been listed for sale on Facebook Marketplace. GPS records for the number, provided to investigators from a telephone company, helped narrow the location of the phone's user.

According to the complaint, the FBI obtained a warrant permitting the use of a sophisticated device called a cell-site simulator, which is a surveillance tool that mimics a cell phone tower, causing phones in the vicinity to register with the simulator. Once phones connect to the device, investigators can pinpoint a particular phone.

According to the criminal complaint, the FBI located the phone at a motel in Santa Maria and conducted surveillance from outside the room where the suspect's device was located. The next morning, authorities executed a search warrant.

SWAT team agents from the FBI Los Angeles Field Office entered the motel room Friday through the door and adjacent windows to rescue the teenager and arrest the armed abductors, the law enforcement source said.

All three defendants admitted to playing a role in abducting or confining the victim, according to the criminal complaint.