A former Azusa resident was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 8 1/2 years in federal prison 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.

Alexis Romero-Velez, 26, was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $33,090, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He pleaded guilty last year to a federal kidnapping conspiracy charge.

Romero-Velez admitted driving a minivan used in the kidnapping, which prosecutors allege was orchestrated by two Chinese nationals, Guangyao Yang and Peicheng Shen.

In October, Anthony Valladares, 29, of Pasadena, was sentenced to more than 16 years behind bars for his role in the four-person scheme in which Tony Liao was grabbed from the San Gabriel Square shopping plaza on July 16, 2018.

Valladares — who also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kidnap — was used as the “muscle” in the operation.

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.

Liao’s family did not pay the ransom, papers filed in Los Angeles federal court 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.

Yang, 28, and Shen, 35, 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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