Two men charged in South Florida with migrant smuggling, ransom scheme

Two men face federal charges in South Florida for their part in a migrant smuggling operation that involved kidnapping and torturing Cubans and extorting money from victims’ family members, authorities said.

Reynaldo Marquez Crespo, 41, and Jancer Sergio Ramos Valdes, 33, made their initial appearances Wednesday in Miami federal court. Valdes had been arrested in Connecticut, and Crespo was arrested in Texas.

Valdes and Crespo had arranged to smuggle their victims from Cuba into the United States, according to a criminal complaint. Instead, Crespo, Valdes, and others transported the victims by boat to Merida, Mexico, locked them in a house and held them captive for ransom.

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Family members of the victims were ordered to pay a $10,000 ransom, prosecutors said. If the ransom was paid, the victim was sent by bus to the U.S.-Mexico border with instructions to seek political asylum. If the family refused to pay, Valdes and Crespo threatened to torture, starve and kill the victims, officials said.

Defense attorneys for the men didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.