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Two men charged with kidnapping in connection with California car dealer found dead and buried in desert


A pair of men have been charged in connection with the 2018 kidnapping of a prominent car dealer in California who was later killed, authorities said.

On Wednesday, officials in federal court charged Alexis Ivan Romero Velez and Anthony Valladares with kidnapping, nearly two years to the day of Ruochen (Tony) Liao’s disappearance, according to The Los Angeles Times.

FBI agents and prosecutors allege that Velez was the driver and Valladares was considered the “muscle” in the abduction of Liao, who disappeared on July 16, 2018, after reportedly getting into a car at a shopping center in Southern California.

Two other men — Guangyao Yang and Peicheng Shen — are accused of arranging the abduction, and have both been charged with kidnapping and extortion.

Valladares, 28, and Velez, 24, were arrested Tuesday.

The day of Liao’s kidnapping saw him get dropped off by a friend at the San Gabriel Square shopping center to meet someone he’d hoped would help him gather a debt, according to an FBI agent’s account in an affidavit. Liao, who sold luxury cars, got into a minivan and was never seen again, the agent said.

The affidavit says photos showing Liao with his limbs tied and his eyes covered with tape were then sent to Liao’s father, The Los Angeles Times reported.

A demand was made that the father pay $2 million to save his son, but Liao’s family did not pay the ransom.

“Your son has made me very poor,” an undisclosed voice told Liao over the phone, according to the affidavit. “I have lost everything and suffered a divorce because of him. I have been looking for Tony for a long time.”

The affidavit claims Shen has said he placed tape over Liao’s mouth and kicked him. When Shen and Yang noticed Liao was not breathing, they allegedly buried him in the Mojave desert.

Human remains were later found by FBI agents in the desert and were identified as Liao in July 2019, says the U.S. attorney’s office.

Shen, 34, and Yang, 26, are both Chinese nationals and are currently in Chinese custody.