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Two men charged in $2 million kidnapping of luxury car dealer whose body was found in Mojave Desert

Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Federal authorities Wednesday charged two men with helping to abduct a Southern California car dealer who was held for $2 million ransom, beaten, killed and buried in the Mojave Desert.

Anthony Valladares, 28, and Alexis Ivan Romero Velez, 24, were arrested Tuesday and charged in federal court with kidnapping. An attorney for Valladares declined to comment, and an attorney representing Velez didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The evening of July 16, 2018, a friend dropped off Ruochen "Tony" Liao, a Chinese national who sold high-end cars in Southern California, at the San Gabriel Square shopping plaza to meet a man he believed would help him collect a debt, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The friend watched Liao, 28, climb into a dark-colored minivan and drive off. It was the last he -- or anyone else -- would see of Liao.

In court documents, prosecutors and agents have alleged that two Chinese nationals, Guangyao Yang and Peicheng Shen, orchestrated Liao's abduction, using Valladares as "muscle" and Romero as a driver.

Yang, 26, and Shen, 34, have been charged in Los Angeles with kidnapping and extortion. Both men are currently in Chinese custody. Shen was arrested in January 2019 and began talking to Chinese authorities. FBI Special Agent Alejandra Sanchez described his account in an affidavit filed in federal court.

Shen told the authorities that he and Yang had recruited Valladares, who worked at a UFC gym in Rosemead that the two frequented, by promising him cash and marijuana for his help in abducting Liao.

 

Valladares had asked if anyone was going to get hurt, Shen said. He told Valladares no. The two bought a Taser at a gun shop, and Valladares purchased an old revolver and six bullets, Shen told Chinese authorities.

"If there were problems with the kidnapping attempt, they would blame everything on Valladares," Shen said, according to the affidavit.

The day of the abduction, Shen, Valladares and Romero drove to the San Gabriel Square shopping plaza and parked outside a 99 Ranch Market, Shen told Chinese authorities. Yang was sitting in his Range Rover nearby, he said.

Liao got into the minivan and Valladares grabbed him by the neck, shocked him with the Taser and wrapped black packaging tape around his eyes and mouth, Shen told Chinese authorities.

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