Smuggler pleads guilty to taking hostage

OAKLAND, CA

U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello announced today that Julio Lopez Morales, 31, pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of conspiring to commit hostage taking.

Morales will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lowell Jensen on July 11 and could face up to five years in prison.

Russoniello said that during the guilty plea, Morales admitted to driving the 17-year-old, her 1-year-old son and two other women and one man from Arizona to California for money in February 2007. All five passengers had entered the United States illegally, Russoniello said.

An affidavit filed in the case last year by U.S. immigration agent Brian Ginn alleged that the young woman's boyfriend arranged to pay a Mexican smuggler $4,000 to have the woman and the couple's 1-year-old son brought to California.

When Morales arrived with the group in the parking lot of a Walgreen's drug store in the Fruitvale area of Oakland on Feb. 2, 2007, he called the woman's boyfriend and demanded an additional $2,000.

When the boyfriend refused to pay, Morales allowed two of the passengers and the child out of the vehicle but drove the young mother and another woman to a motel in Fairfield.

Morales was arrested by Fairfield police and the two women were rescued after authorities traced his cell phone to the motel, according to the affidavit.

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