By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A Pasadena man is in federal prison Monday after being sentenced to more than 16 years for his role in a kidnapping scheme of a Chinese national whose body was later found buried in the Mojave Desert.

(credit: FBI)

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Anthony Valladares, 29, was sentenced Friday in the violent abduction of Ruochen “Tony” Liao of Santa Ana in 2018. Liao’s body was eventually found buried in the Mojave Desert late last year.

Judge Fernando M. Olguin called the kidnapping scheme a “horrendous crime.” Olguin also ordered Valladares to pay $33,090 in restitution.

Valladares, who prosecutors say acted as the “muscle” in the scheme, had pleaded guilty in October of last year to one count of conspiracy to kidnap. According to prosecutors, Valladares took cash for intimidating, beating and subduing Liao, which was key part of the conspiracy planned with Chinese nationals Guangyao Yang, 28, and 35-year-old Peicheng Shen.

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Shen had met with Liao several times, purportedly to help him collect a debt from another person, according to court documents. During their third meeting at a San Gabriel shopping center in July of 2018, Shen lured the unsuspecting Liao to a minivan driven by 25-year-old Alexis Ivan Romero Velez of Azusa, and used a word in Chinese to signal Valladares – who had been hiding in the van – to attack, prosecutors said. Liao was subdued with a taser, then tied up and his head covered with a black hood.

When he pleaded guilty last year in the case, Valladares admitted to helping Yang acquire the taser and the revolver and bullets used in the kidnapping.

Liao was taken to Rosemead, moved into a different car, and eventually brought to a house in Corona. He was confined in a closet with his legs bound, eyes taped shot and arms restrained behind him, prosecutors said. The cause of Liao’s death was not given, but prosecutors said Valladares was not physically present at the time.

The day after the kidnapping, Liao’s father received a demand for a $2 million ransom to be deposited into three Chinese bank accounts within three hours. After Liao died, Shen and Yang drove to Mojave to bury his body and other physical evidence, prosecutors said. Shen had the closet where Liao had been held re-carpeted, and Yang searched online to figure out how fast a corpse decomposes in soil, according to court papers.

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The two Chinese nationals, who were last known to be living in West Covina, are in custody in China in connection with the kidnapping. Velez, the driver, pleaded guilty in September 2019 to one count of conspiracy to kidnap and is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 10.