A federal grand jury has indicted two Chinese nationals on charges they abducted missing Costa Mesa luxury car dealer Rouchen “Tony” Liao last year, tried to collect a $2 million ransom from his family and possibly dumped his body in the Mojave Desert.
The indictment handed down this week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles charges Guangyao Yang, 25, and Peicheng Shen, 33, whose last known residences were in West Covina, with kidnapping, attempted extortion, aiding and abetting, and other offenses.
Authorities believe the suspects fled to China, where they are in police custody, and that Liao, 28, is dead, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Thursday. Liao lived in Santa Ana and was president of Real Cars LLC, a fledgling luxury car dealership in Costa Mesa.
According to the indictment, Shen, using an alias, met Liao several times on the pretense he would help Liao collect a debt from another individual.
However, during a meeting on July 16, 2018, at a San Gabriel shopping center, Shen allegedly abducted Liao and then, with Yang, held him hostage at a house in Corona. The pair are accused of binding Liao’s legs, taping his eyes shut, restraining his arms and confining him in a closet.
The day after the kidnapping, Liao’s father, who lives in China, received via a messaging app two photos showing Liao bound and then a phone call demanding a $2 million ransom, according to an affidavit filed by the FBI.
“He heard Liao’s voice (during the phone call) saying words to the effect of, “Father save me, help me, I have been kidnapped,” the affidavit says. “An unknown male voice then came on the line and made statements. … “Your son has made me very poor. I have lost everything and suffered a divorce because of him.”
Liao’s father also could hear his son screaming in the background and believed he was being beaten, according to the affidavit. The ransom was never paid, Eimiller said.
The FBI also alleges that on July 18, Shen replaced the carpet in the closet of the Corona home where Liao was confined. That same day Yang did an internet search to determine how fast a corpse decomposes in soil and then, along with Shen, traveled to the Mojave Desert to dispose of Liao’s body or other evidence, the affidavit says.
“There have been multiple searches in the desert by the FBI’s evidence response team to locate Liao’s remains, but so far we haven’t come up with anything,” Eimiller said, declining to release information about how it was determined the body may have been buried there.
The FBI also is investigating the possibility that others may be involved in Liao’s disappearance.
Liao came to the U.S. in 2008 to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He graduated in 2014 with a degree in business management.
Soon after leaving school, he moved to Boston and established WeCar Auto Group, a high-end, boutique used-car business. However, the company experienced difficulties and closed in 2016.
Then, in July 2017, drawn to Southern California’s sunny climate and its car culture, Liao opened Car Rules, a company that specializes in the sale of Bentleys, Porsches and other high-end vehicles.
Mainland China does not extradite its nationals to the U.S. However, Liao’s family members are optimistic justice will be served, said their attorney, Matthew Lombard.
“They are hopeful the two countries will work together to punish all of the individuals responsible,” he said.
The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of Liao’s body. Anyone with information is asked to contact the FBI’s Los Angeles field office at 310-477-6565.
© 2019 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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