LOS ANGELES – A Pasadena man pleaded guilty today to a federal charge of conspiring to kidnap a Chinese national who was violently abducted from a San Gabriel parking lot, and whose parents were extorted for $2 million in ransom before the victim died from his injuries.
Anthony Valladares, 28, pleaded guilty to a single-count information charging him with conspiracy to kidnap. He has been in federal custody since July 14, when he was arrested on a criminal complaint in this case.
According to his plea agreement, Valladares admitted to conspiring with others, including Chinese nationals Guangyao Yang, 27, and Peicheng Shen, 34, to kidnap Ruochen “Tony” Liao, of Santa Ana. Valladares was the “muscle” hired to intimidate, beat, and subdue Liao during the kidnapping. Valladares agreed to accept cash for the job, court papers state.
During the summer of 2018, Shen, using an alias, met the victim several times under the pretense that Shen would help the victim collect a debt from another individual, the plea agreement states. During their third meeting, at a San Gabriel shopping center on July 16, 2018, Shen lured the victim to a minivan, where Valladares was hiding, and whose driver was Alexis Ivan Romero Velez, 24, of Azusa, whom Valladares recruited for the conspiracy.
Liao entered the minivan and spoke in Chinese with Shen, who used a specific word to signal Valladares to begin attacking the victim. Once Shen uttered the word, Valladares and Shen violently assaulted Liao, used a taser to subdue him, and ultimately bound and restrained him with a black hood and ties. Valladares admitted to helping Yang acquire the taser used in the kidnapping, and also admitted to acquiring a revolver and bullets for the kidnapping. Romero then drove the minivan to a location in Rosemead, where Liao was moved into a different car, the plea agreement states.
Shen and Yang then took the victim to a house in Corona, where they confined him by binding his legs together, taping his eyes shut, restraining his arms behind him, and confining him in a closet, court papers state.
The day after the kidnapping, the victim’s father received a demand for a $2 million ransom in exchange for the victim’s life, with the money to be deposited into three Chinese bank accounts within three hours, court documents allege. The victim’s father also received photographs of the victim, who was physically restrained in a closet, according to court documents.
Valladares was not physically present for Liao’s death, which occurred when Shen and Yang held him captive, the plea agreement states.
Shen and Yang allegedly drove to the area of Mojave, California, to bury or otherwise dispose of the victim’s body and other physical evidence involved in the crime. Further, Shen allegedly had the closet of the Corona house re-carpeted. Yang also performed internet searches to determine, in effect, how fast a corpse decomposes in soil, court papers state. Liao’s remains were discovered in Mojave late last year.
United States District Judge Fernando M. Olguin has scheduled a February 18, 2021 sentencing hearing, at which time Valladares will face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison. The parties have agreed that a prison sentence of at least 12 years but no more than 25 years represents a reasonable and appropriate sentence in this case. Judge Olguin will make the final determination as to the sentence.
Yang and Shen, whose last known U.S. residences were in West Covina, are currently in custody in China on charges filed there related to the kidnapping. Last month, Romero pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to kidnap. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 4, 2021.
The FBI conducted this investigation, with significant assistance provided by members of the FBI’s Safe Street Task Force, which includes the Pasadena Police Department.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Julia Choe of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section and Frances Lewis of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.