Anthony Valladares, 28, was hired as ‘muscle’ when victim was abducted and held for US$2 million ransom, prosecutors say

Liao died of his injuries after being badly beaten and repeatedly shocked with stun gun

A Southern California man pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiracy to kidnap a Chinese citizen who was held for ransom but died of his injuries after the abduction, authorities said.

Anthony Valladares, 28, of Pasadena entered the plea in connection with the 2018 kidnapping of Ruochen “Tony” Liao of Santa Ana from a Los Angeles-area shopping centre, according to a statement from the US attorney’s office.

Liao owned a Southern California showroom that sold high-end cars such as Porches and Bentleys.

Federal prosecutors contend that Valladares was hired as “muscle” when Liao was lured into a minivan in the car park of the mall in San Gabriel.

Liao’s parents in China were sent ransom demands for US$2 million and ordered to deposit payment in Chinese bank accounts, according to court documents.

However, the money was not paid, authorities said.

Liao was badly beaten and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun during the snatching.

He was believed to have been held in a closet at a home in Corona and died the day after the kidnapping and was buried in the Mojave Desert authorities said.

His remains were identified last year.

Valladares could face up to life in prison but under the plea agreement, prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 12 to 25 years, authorities said.

The minivan’s driver, Alexis Ivan Romero Velez, 24, of Azusa, pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to kidnap and awaits sentencing.

Chinese nationals Guangyao Yang, 27, and Peicheng Shen, 34, who were living in suburban West Covina at the time of the kidnapping, are in custody in China on charges filed there related to the kidnapping.

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