Two Chinese nationals were indicted on federal charges of kidnapping a Santa Ana man, who is believed to have died during the crime, and attempting to collect $2 million in ransom from his family, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.
Investigators believe Ruochen “Tony” Liao died during the course of the kidnapping, and they are seeking the public’s assistance in locating his body, which is thought to be buried in the Mojave Desert, prosecutors said.
Guangyao Yang, 25, and Peicheng Shen, 33, whose last known United States residences were in West Covina, were charged in a four-count indictment returned by a Los Angeles federal grand jury on Feb. 22. The indictment charges each defendant with conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, attempted extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act and threat by foreign communication, federal prosecutors said.
According to court documents, Shen, using an alias, allegedly met the 28-year-old Liao several times on the pretense that he would help the man collect a debt from another person. During their third meeting, at a San Gabriel shopping center on July 16, 2018, Shen allegedly kidnapped Liao and then, along with Yang, held the Chinese national hostage at a house in Corona, according to court papers.
At the house, Shen and Yang allegedly confined Liao by binding his legs together, taping his eyes shut, restraining his arms behind him and confining him in a closet. The day after the kidnapping, the victim’s father received a demand for a $2 million ransom in exchange for his son’s life, with the money to be deposited into three Chinese bank accounts within three hours, court documents allege. The father also received photographs of his son, who was physically restrained in a closet, according to court documents.
Prosecutors contend Liao died during the ordeal, and on July 18, 2018, Shen and Yang drove to the Mojave Desert to bury or otherwise dispose of Liao’s body or other physical evidence involved in the crime.
On that same day, Shen allegedly had the closet of the Corona house re-carpeted. Yang also performed an internet search to determine, in effect, how fast a corpse decomposes in soil, court papers state.
Shen and Yang are believed to be in China.
The two kidnapping-related charges carry a possible sentence of up to life in federal prison. The extortion and threat by foreign communication charges each carry up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The FBI is asking the public for help finding the suspects and Liao. While search efforts are focused in the Mojave Desert, anyone with information was asked to call the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565. Anonymous tips can also be submitted to tips.fbi.gov .