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Two men plead guilty in 2008 kidnapping

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Two men pleaded guilty this week to kidnapping charges in a ransom ploy gone awry in 2008.

While prosecutors don't believe the case had ties to drug cartels, it happened in a year rife with high-profile kidnappings and other crimes related to drug-trafficking in Gwinnett.

Both Fernando Pineda Sanchez, 22, and Miguel Espinoza-Alvarez, 26, pleaded guilty to kidnapping a 30-year-old man from the Arbors at Breckinridge apartment complex in Duluth on Dec. 7, 2008.

He was transported to a home in Clayton County while his abductors tried to work a ransom deal with his family, authorities said.

A Gwinnett Superior Court judge imposed prison sentences Monday of 15 years for Sanchez, the admitted organizer, and 10 years for Espinoza-Alvarez, said Assistant District Attorney Samantha Routh.

Cases against four others arrested in connection with the kidnapping are pending, Routh said.

The victim knew Sanchez through a female he'd met online. She introduced Sanchez as her brother, Routh said.

Initially, the suspects demanded $80,000 in ransom but reduced the amount to $60,000 -- or $60,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine, Routh said.

The victim's brother contacted Gwinnett police to alert them to the situation. Investigators made phone contact with one suspect and said the requested money would be in a vehicle parked near Pleasant Hill and Sweetwater roads on Dec. 11 that year.

Four suspects arrived in two vehicles at the scene, and police and SWAT members swooped in, police said at the time.

Two suspects, including Espinoza-Alvarez, were arrested at the scene. Sanchez and another suspect fled but were apprehended on Interstate 85 near Norcross.

Sanchez told officers where they could locate the victim, Routh said. He was found in Jonesboro under guard by two additional suspects but was not seriously injured.

The arrests came months after drug-related kidnappings had alerted police and Gwinnett residents to the violent nature of drug-running conglomerates.

In July 2008, an alleged drug dealer was found severely dehydrated and badly beaten after being chained and gagged for six days in the basement of a Lilburn home.

Four days earlier, Gwinnett police SWAT officers shot and killed a suspect in the parking lot of a Waffle House in another drug-related kidnapping.

The cases cast a national spotlight on Gwinnett as a drug-trafficking epicenter.