McALLEN, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — A federal grand jury indicted a former security guard on kidnapping and hostage-taking charges last week.
Ernesto Gaona Gonzalez, 59, of Mission is accused of kidnapping a woman who crossed the border near Anzalduas Park in September 2022. Border Patrol found her in the back of Gaona’s car.
“When someone exercises their right to a trial, the government uses all their power and authority to try and squeeze them into pleading guilty,” said attorney Carlos A. Garcia of Mission, who represents Gaona. “Mr. Gaona stands by his innocence. He’s done nothing wrong, and the facts are going to prove it.”
Gaona worked for MLG Protection Services, which provided security at Anzalduas Park.
On Sept. 4, 2022, a man approached federal air marshals and Border Patrol agents who had been assigned to the park.
The man showed them WhatsApp messages from a woman, who said that she was being held against her will.
“In those messages, the woman had sent a photo of an older man in a security guard uniform and repeated messages saying that she was about to be raped,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jongwoo “Daniel” Chung, who summarized the case during a hearing in April 2023. “She had also sent a WhatsApp location as well.”
As the man showed agents the WhatsApp messages, he received a call from the woman’s phone.
“There was a man on the line who was saying: ‘Hey, you know, if you give me $300 I’ll let the woman go,’” Chung said.
When they arrived at the location shown on WhatsApp, the air marshals and Border Patrol agents found the woman in the back of Gaona’s car.
The woman said that she crossed the border, got separated from her group and stumbled across Gaona while attempting to turn herself in.
According to the woman, Gaona offered her a drink.
“When they were alone in the car, he told her that he would drop her off at a store if she had sex with him,” Chung said.
In April 2023, seven months after the incident, a grand jury charged Gaona with transporting an illegal alien within the United States. If convicted, he faced a maximum of 5 years in prison.
Gaona pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors took the case back to a grand jury in October. The grand jury indicted Gaona on two new charges, kidnapping and hostage taking, from the same incident.
Gaona pleaded not guilty — again.
If convicted on the kidnapping charge or the hostage-taking charge, Gaona faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.