A Pasadena man pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge for participating in the kidnapping of a Southern California luxury car dealer who was held for $2 million ransom, beaten, killed and buried in the Mojave desert.
Anthony Valladares, 28, was used as the “muscle” in the four-person scheme in which Ruochen “Tony” Liao was grabbed from the San Gabriel Square shopping plaza on July 16, 2018, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Valladares pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to kidnap, which carries a maximum sentence of life behind bars. However, as a result of his plea deal, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison term between 12 and 25 years. His sentencing is set for Feb. 18.
Co-defendant Alexis Romero-Velez, 24, of Azusa drove a minivan used in the plot, which prosecutors allege was orchestrated by two Chinese nationals, Guangyao Yang and Peicheng Shen.
After 28-year-old Liao was abducted, his parents in China received ransom demands suggesting he had been badly beaten, blindfolded and tied up with duct tape. The parents were told to deposit a $2 million ransom payment into Chinese bank accounts within three hours, according to documents filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Liao’s family did not pay the ransom, court papers show.
Investigators believe Liao was stashed in a closet at a home in Corona and shocked with a Taser until the battery ran out. After the car dealer died from his injuries a day or so later, Yang and Shen drove to the desert near the town of Mojave to bury the body, prosecutors allege.
In July 2019, the FBI laboratory used DNA testing to identify Liao’s remains, which were recovered following a search by the FBI’s Evidence Response Team.
Romero-Velez pleaded guilty last month to the kidnapping conspiracy count and is expected to be sentenced on Feb. 4.
Yang, 27, and Shen, 34, whose last known U.S. residences were in West Covina, were charged with conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, attempted extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act, and threat by foreign communication. They are currently in custody in China on charges filed there related to the kidnapping, prosecutors said.
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