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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of South Carolina

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cartel Connected Kidnapper Sentenced to 56 Years

Contact Person: JD Rowell (803) 929-3000

Columbia, South Carolina ---- United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that Ruben Ceja-Rangel, age 59, a Mexican national whose last known residence was Groveland, Florida, was sentenced late yesterday in federal court in Columbia, South Carolina.  Ceja-Rangel was convicted October 23, 2015, of 7 charges related to the armed abduction of a St. Mathews man that occurred in July of 2014. 

United States District Judge J. Michelle Childs of Columbia, South Carolina, sentenced Ceja-Rangel to a term of imprisonment of 677 months (293 months on kidnapping and related charges, 7 years consecutive on use of a firearm in furtherance of kidnapping and 25 years consecutive on a second use of a firearm in furtherance of kidnapping), followed by a term of 5 years supervised release. 

Evidence presented during the trial established that Ruben Ceja-Rangel (age 58) traveled from his home in Groveland, Florida, in early June or July of 2014, for the purpose of conspiring with Luis Castro-Villeda (24) and Juan Fuentes-Morales (age 27) to kidnap the victim from St. Mathews, South Carolina.  During the trial evidence was presented that the victim was forcibly taken from his truck in the early morning hours of July 14, 2014 at gunpoint by Ceja-Rangel.  Ceja-Rangel and another co-defendant then blindfolded and transported the victim to a residence near Garland, NC, where the victim was held for several hours at gunpoint.  The victim testified that at one point, he attempted to escape and Juan Fuentes-Morales struck him and pointed a .25 caliber gun at the victim's head.  Evidence presented proved that around 8:00 pm, the victim was moved from Garland to a residence located near Rosoboro, NC on Highway 210. 

While held at the second location, the victim was blindfolded and chained to a workout bench, where he was made to lay on the floor from July 9, 2014, until his rescue by the FBI on July 15, 2014.  In the early morning hours of July 15, 2014, a compliment of the Charlotte, NC FBI SWAT Team executed a search warrant at the Highway 210 residence near Roseboro.  When the SWAT team made entry, they located the victim chained up and blindfolded on the floor.  Ruben Ceja-Rangel attempted to run out of the back of the residence but he was quickly detained by FBI Charlotte SWAT operators.

Prior to locating the victim, Operators with the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) executed a search warrant at 5363 Old Fayetteville Road, Garland NC.  During the execution of this search warrant, Agents located a cellular phone that Juan Fuentes-Morales used during the kidnapping to communicate with individuals in Mexico who were demanding a ransom for the victim's return. Agents also located a .25 caliber pistol that Fuentes-Morales had used to hold the victim during his initial abduction on July 9, 2014.

Evidence presented at trial proved that the victim's father owed a drug debt to members of a Mexican Drug Trafficking organization, or cartel, related to the father's inability to sell over 200 pounds of marijuana.  Jurors heard multiple phone calls that were recorded by FBI hostage negotiators, wherein the Mexican drug traffickers threatened to gouge out the victim's eyes and ultimately kill him if the father did not pay the ransom.

Ceja-Rangel was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, substantive kidnapping, hostage taking, brandishing firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence, lying the FBI, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  Evidence at the sentencing hearing also established that Ceja-Rangel was previously convicted of Importation of Marijuana in United States District Court in the Southern District of Texas.

Mr. Nettles stated that “this case is the perfect example of how drug trafficking leads to violent crime and brings the real life violence associated with Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations to the United States. The continued commitment to the war on drugs is the only way to ensure that Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations know that the United States Government and the FBI will do whatever it takes to ensure that lives are not lost as a result of drug trafficking and the violence associated with it.”

The case was initiated by the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department and was investigated by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from the Columbia Field Division and the Charlotte Field Division.    Assistant United States Attorney JD Rowell of the Columbia office is prosecuting the case.


Updated May 11, 2016