- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Three men affiliated with a Mexican drug cartel have been indicted on charges of kidnapping a South Carolina man and holding him for ransom for nearly a week in a dispute over $200,000 in marijuana, according to federal officials.

Early on July 9, authorities have said the three men, posing as police officers, pulled the man over as he was going to work in his hometown of St. Matthews, about 30 miles southeast of Columbia. His truck, still running, was left on the side of the road with its door open.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles announced the indictments Wednesday in a news release. Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales and Ruben Ceja-Rangel, both of Mexico, and Luis Castro-Villeda of Garland, North Carolina, were charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, substantive kidnapping and hostage taking for ransom, as well as two counts each for brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, the prosecutor said.

The man was blindfolded and bound at a North Carolina home before FBI agents traced ransom demand phone calls from his abductors and stormed the residence, rescuing him mostly unharmed.

The man was involved in delivering cocaine, marijuana and money throughout South Carolina and North Carolina, according to federal court documents. He is not in custody and does not face any charges.

If convicted, Nettles said that the men face maximum sentences of life imprisonment on each of the five charges. An arraignment is scheduled for later this month in Columbia.

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