Two men were indicted on federal charges in the disappearance of a Costa Mesa luxury car dealer.
Ruochen “Tony” Liao, 28, a Santa Ana resident, was kidnapped from a San Gabriel shopping mall on July 16 and held for ransom, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Yang is thought to have left the United States for China on July 26. Three days later he was arrested by Chinese authorities on suspicion of Liao’s kidnapping, according to the indictment.
Shen also is thought to be in China.
Liao, also a Chinese national, met several times with a debt collector named “David” who said he would help Liao collect a debt from someone for a fee of $20,000 to $30,000, the indictment said. Prosecutors allege that “David” was Shen, based on sketches, cellphone records and recovered messages.
Two days before his disappearance, Liao took a friend to his second encounter with the debt collector because Liao didn’t trust “David,” the friend told FBI agents.
Liao was instructed to go alone to the third and final meeting July 16, the friend told investigators.
The friend said he observed Liao’s third meeting from afar and saw Liao get into a dark-colored minivan that proceeded to exit the mall parking lot. He didn’t hear from Liao again and the next day reported him missing, according to the criminal complaint.
Prosecutors allege that Shen and Yang — who authorities believe introduced Liao to Shen — kidnapped Liao and took him to a house in Corona, where he was held in a bedroom closet with his arms and legs bound and his eyes taped shut.
The day after his disappearance, Liao’s father received photos of his son bound with his eyes taped, the FBI said. Five minutes later, his phone rang.
“Father, save me, help me, I have been kidnapped,” he heard his son say in Mandarin. Then he received a message instructing him to deposit $2 million into three Chinese bank accounts in exchange for Liao’s life, according to court documents. The last message said “three hours” in Mandarin.
Liao’s family hasn’t heard from their son or his kidnappers since, the indictment says.
Investigators believe Liao died during the kidnapping, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
An FBI officer wrote in the criminal complaint that investigators recovered messages between Shen and Yang in the days before and after the disappearance in which they discussed taping a person’s eyes and mouth and questions about account numbers.
The day after the ransom call, the indictment alleges, Shen and Yang drove to the Mojave Desert and dumped evidence and possibly Liao’s body. They also replaced the carpet in the closet where Liao was held, according to the indictment, and Yang performed an internet search on how fast a corpse decomposes in soil.
The two kidnapping-related charges carry a maximum penalty of life in federal prison, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The extortion and threat charges each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.