One of the most violent hit men in Tijuana, Mexico, allegedly offered a San Diego street gang $25,000 to kill a couple in California, paying $4,000 in advance.
When the gang couldn't find his targets, the hit man upped his offer to $50,000 if the killings could be done quickly.
As the date for the planned killings neared this month, Juan Sillas was allegedly told that an entire family might die. Go ahead, he said.
The allegations, based on information from a confidential informant, were detailed in a complaint filed Tuesday against three men accused of plotting to murder the family.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Mark Amador told a judge it was "another glaring example of cross-border violence."
Sillas, 33, was not charged in the murder-for-hire case, but his brother Jorge, who turned 28 on Tuesday, was, along with Victor Gonzalez, 29, and Danny Cepallo, 34. All three men pleaded not guilty.
Authorities say the defendants were working on the orders of the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel -- one of Mexico's oldest and once most powerful drug trafficking organizations.
The alleged plot was foiled when authorities raided the home of Jorge Sillas in Palmdale last week and arrested Sillas and Gonzalez. Cepallo was arrested at a Starbucks in the city north of Los Angeles. During the raid, agents seized two AR-15 rifles, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and about $20,000 in cash.
Superior Court Judge David Szumowski set bail at $1 million each. If convicted, the men could face up to life in prison.
Jorge Sillas' attorney, Michael Harkness, told the judge that his client's wife of 11 years and children, ages 9 and 4, lived in Palmdale. He said Sillas had no criminal record.
"They don't have records here, your honor," said Amador, the prosecutor.
"I don't think they have records in Mexico either, your honor," interjected Harkness, who declined to speak with reporters after the hearing.
The elder Sillas -- known as "Ruedas," or "Wheels" in English -- is suspected by authorities of being responsible for many of Tijuana's more than 800 murders last year. His whereabouts are unknown.
He is implicated in the kidnapping of a niece of a Sinaloa cartel heavyweight at a fast food restaurant in Tijuana, according to Mexican army Gen. Alfonso Duarte, who oversees northwest Mexico. The army rescued the niece.
"He's a hot-tempered individual," said Javier Salaiz, an agent for the California attorney general's office. "He just goes off the deep end."
The California attorney general's office said last week that Sillas sought to hire assassins to target people in California who owed large sums of money believed to be proceeds from drug sales.
California authorities called Sillas a lieutenant in the Arellano Felix cartel, but Duarte and other Mexican authorities say he broke with the group in late 2009 in a dispute with cartel boss Fernando Sanchez Arellano, after Sillas tipped off federal authorities to a rival's shipment of methamphetamine at the Tijuana airport.
Sillas belongs to the cartel, but it is a relationship "full of backstabbing and double-sided deals," Salaiz said.
A San Diego Superior Court judge set bail at $1 million each, and scheduled a hearing for March 17. If convicted, the men face up to life in prison.