- Associated Press - Thursday, October 29, 2020

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A Southern California man pleaded guilty 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 mall, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Liao owned a Southern California dealership 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 parking lot of the mall in San Gabriel.

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

However, the money wasn’t 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 minvan’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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