Pasadena man sentenced to more than 16 years in kidnapping of luxury car dealer

Ruochen "Tony" Liao, 28, of Santa Ana
Ruochen “Tony” Liao, 28, of Santa Ana was abducted in 2018.

A Pasadena man was sentenced Friday to a lengthy federal prison term for his role in a 2018 kidnapping plot that turned fatal.

Anthony Valladares, 29, will spend 16 years and 3 months in prison, said the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.

At the hearing, U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin said Valladares and his co-conspirators committed a “horrendous crime” when they abducted the victim, eventually resulting in his death.

Valladares pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to kidnap in October 2020, prosecutors said.

Olguin ordered Valladares to pay $33,090 in restitution, prosecutors said.

The kidnapping occurred on the evening of July 16, 2018. A friend dropped off Ruochen “Tony” Liao, a Chinese national who sold high-end cars in Southern California, at the San Gabriel Square shopping plaza on Valley Boulevard, according to court documents.

Liao believed he was meeting a man who would help him collect a debt, according to court documents. The friend watched Liao, 28, climb into a dark-colored minivan, which drove off. It was the last anyone would see of Liao.


Prosecutors said Valladares conspired with 28-year-old Guangyao Yang and 35-year-old Peicheng Shen to kidnap Liao.

Valladares was hired to intimidate, beat and subdue Liao during the kidnapping, prosecutors said, and he agreed to be paid in cash for the job.

Shen used an alias to meet Liao several times under the pretense that he’d help him collect a debt from another person, according to court documents.

July 16 was their third meeting. Inside the waiting minivan that evening were Valladares and Alexis Ivan Romero Velez, a 25-year-old Azusa resident that Valladares recruited to act as the driver, according to court documents.

Once inside the minivan, Shen used a word to signal Valladares to start his attack, prosecutors said.

Federal agents arrested two men believed to have helped abduct a Southern California car dealer who was held for ransom, beaten, killed and buried in the Mojave desert.

July 15, 2020

After he said the word, Valladares and Shen violently attacked Liao, using a stun gun to subdue him, prosecutors said. They ultimately bound and restrained him with a black hood and ties.


Valladares later admitted to helping Yang get the stun gun, revolver and bullets for the kidnapping, prosecutors said.

Romero drove the minivan to Rosemead when Liao was moved into a different car, prosecutors said. Shen and Yang took Liao to a house in Corona where they bound his legs together, taped his eyes shut, restrained his arms behind him and shut him in a closet, prosecutors said.

The next day, Liao’s father received a $2-million ransom demand, prosecutors said. If the money were deposited into three Chinese bank accounts within three hours, the kidnappers said they’d release Liao alive.

Liao died of injuries suffered during the kidnapping, prosecutors said.

His remains were discovered in the Mojave Desert late last year, prosecutors said.

Valladares was an “active participant and organizer of a violent kidnapping motivated solely by greed,” prosecutors said.

Yang and Shen were taken into custody in China, prosecutors said. Chinese authorities filed charges related to kidnapping. Velez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to kidnap in September 2019, prosecutors said. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 10.