SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A federal grand jury has indicted the woman allegedly kidnapped from a Champaign, Illinois, mall in June and the two men who appeared to kidnap her.
These charges are resulted from a joint investigation by the following agencies: Champaign Police Department, the FBI's Springfield and Houston (Texas) Divisions, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Champaign County State's Attorney's Office.
The indictment, returned late Wednesday, charges Monica Adriana Zacatlan-Ramirez, 19, of Urbana, Illinois; Eduardo Guerrero Cortez, 25, of Texas; and Jarbey Emerson Reyes-Villalobos, 18, of Champaign, Illinois, with conspiring to provide false statements to law enforcement to conceal that the reported kidnapping was actually a hoax. Ramirez is also charged with one count of making false statements to law enforcement and two counts of perjury for making false statements before a federal grand jury.
"Our justice system expects the truth," said U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis, Central District of Illinois. "When someone willfully lies to police, then willfully lies again under oath to a federal grand jury about a potential kidnapping, those lies damage the justice system, those lies harm law enforcement that is ready to help, and those lies harm other victims who rely on the police."
"Ms. Ramirez allegedly orchestrated a hoax that selfishly squandered numerous investigative hours and law enforcement manpower," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge for HSI Chicago. "As this indictment demonstrates, those who brazenly lie to law enforcement and waste precious police resources will be held accountable for their crimes."
Special Agent in Charge Sean Cox of Springfield FBI stated, "On behalf of the FBI, the seamless cooperation and coordination of law enforcement agencies in Illinois and Texas led to the timely and safe recovery of the alleged victim and apprehension of the subject in this case. We take every threat to the safety of the public seriously, however, we do not have limitless resources, and diverting the resources from both the Champaign area, and our partners in Texas puts the public at risk in the event that an actual emergency did take place."
"The Champaign Police Department expended significant time and expense in appropriately responding to this false kidnapping report," states Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb. "The effort spent on this investigation kept several of our detectives busy for many days and made it more difficult for us to investigate crime reports filed by legitimate victims."
Count one of the indictment alleges that Ramirez, Cortez and Villalobos conspired from June 11 through July 16 to provide law enforcement with false statements regarding the nature of Ramirez's kidnapping from Market Place Mall in Champaign. The indictment specifically alleges that there was no force, threat or coercion involved in the interstate transportation of Ramirez, and that she voluntarily consented, agreed and participated in the planning.
According to the indictment, Ramirez and Cortez were involved in a dating relationship during late 2013 and early 2014. Ramirez and her family moved from Texas to Illinois in late May or early June 2014. Ramirez's family did not approve of Cortez, and Ramirez began a relationship with another individual, during or after her relationship with Cortez.
In June 2014, Ramirez and Cortez allegedly agreed to design a scheme whereby Cortez would kidnap Ramirez so that her willingness to be with him would be concealed. To advance the scheme, on June 11, the day of the alleged kidnapping, Ramirez appeared in circuit court in Champaign to petition the court for an emergency order of protection against Cortez. In support of her petition, Ramirez represented that she was fearful of Cortez after she witnessed a violent incident between Cortez and her boyfriend in a laundromat days earlier.
After the court granted the order of protection, Ramirez allegedly spoke to Cortez and told him to pick her up from the Market Place Mall and make it appear that Cortez took her by force. Cortez agreed and allegedly recruited Villalobos and others to aid in the hoax kidnapping. Cortez and Villalobos, who was armed with a knife, traveled to the mall with another individual, collected Ramirez, and put her into their vehicle. Villalobos threatened Ramirez's companion and the defendants fled the area. Between June 11 and 14, Ramirez, Cortez and Villalobos traveled from Illinois to Texas.
In addition to the conspiracy, Ramirez is charged with making false statements to FBI special agents about her consent and voluntary participation in the hoax kidnapping, and with two counts of lying to a federal grand jury in Springfield.
The indictment alleges that on July 2, while under oath before the grand jury, Ramirez lied about an incident she said she witnessed at a laundromat June 7 that was the basis, in part, for an emergency order of protection that she received June 11. The indictment alleges that Ramirez was not present on the day of the altercation, and did not witness any of the events. Again, while under oath before the grand jury on July 2, Ramirez allegedly lied about her contact with Cortez hours prior to the kidnapping. When asked to explain four calls made to Cortez from her phone on the day of the kidnapping, Ramirez said she did not call Cortez, when, in fact, she made several calls to Cortez.
The three defendants were previously charged by criminal complaint and arrested July 25. Each remains detained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly M. Peirson, Central District of Illinois, is prosecuting this case. If convicted, each of the offenses carries a statutory penalty of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.