The kidnapping of a Calhoun County man stemmed from a drug deal gone bad involving a Mexican group that operates in the Carolinas, a court was told Wednesday.
Three men charged with kidnapping a 23-year-old St. Matthews man appeared in federal court in Raleigh, on Wednesday morning.
Luis Castro-Villeda, 22, Ruben Ceja-Rangel, 57, and Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales, 26, are accused of grabbing the victim from his truck as he drove to pick up a friend for work.
All three were charged with conspiracy to kidnap, abduct, carry away and hold a person for ransom, according to court documents. The three, being held without bail, face extradition to South Carolina for trial.
The FBI did not name the victim, saying it wanted to protect his identity. He has been released and faces no charges at this time, but an investigation is ongoing.
According to an affidavit filed by Special Agent Luke Donald of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the victim and the victim’s father were working for an unnamed Mexican drug trade organization that delivered cocaine, marijuana and money to different locations in South Carolina and North Carolina.
Several months ago, the victim “delivered 200 pounds ($200,000 worth) of marijuana to an unidentified customer. (The victim) ‘fronted’ the marijuana to the customer, expecting payment at a later date; however, the customer absconded with the marijuana and never made payment,” according to the affidavit.
Donald said it is is unclear whether the victim “was actually ripped off” or if he or his father had stolen the marijuana, adding that portion of the investigation is still ongoing.
According to the affidavit, the Mexican drug group held the kidnapping victim and his father “responsible for the $200,000 loss.” When they “could not pay the debt, (the victim) stopped working for the MDTO (Mexican drug trade organization).”
On July 9, the victim was supposed to pick up a friend for work at 6:45 a.m. When the victim failed to show up at the friend’s residence, the friend contacted the victim’s fiancee.
Authorities were notified after a neighbor noticed the victim’s truck on the side of the road with its door open and engine running, said David Thomas, special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Columbia office.
Thomas said the victim was pulled over by one of the suspects who was posing as a law enforcement officer. According to the affidavit, “the victim told agents that Ruben Ceja-Rangel pointed a gun at him during the initial abduction.”
The victim then was told to get into a vehicle with the kidnappers and taken to North Carolina.
The victim’s fiancee later was contacted by one of the hostage- takers, thought to be Fuentes-Morales, according to the affidavit. Phone calls and negotiations between the Mexico-based kidnappers and federal agents — who the kidnappers thought were the victim’s family members – continued until Monday night.
According to the affidavit, the kidnappers “demanded ransom in amounts varying between $100,000 and $400,000. In addition to the ransom money, the hostage-takers demanded the return of the ‘200,’ referring to the 200 pounds of marijuana, which (the victim) had allegedly lost.”
Agents also intercepted multiple phone calls between Fuentes-Morales and the victim’s father, confirming the victim still was alive and being held somewhere in North Carolina.
Agents located Fuentes-Morales after searching a residence at 5363 Old Fayetteville Road in Garland, N.C., according to the affidavit.
After intercepting additional phone calls between Fuentes-Morales and the other kidnappers, agents raided a residence near N.C. Highway 210 in Roseboro, N.C., at 5 a.m. Tuesday. There, they located the kidnapping victim, who was chained, blindfolded and being guard by Ceja-Rangel and Castro-Villeda.
While restrained at the residence, the affidavit said the victim had found a knife and tried to use it to escape but was discovered by Fuentes-Morales and held at gunpoint.
Thomas said the men arrested are U.S. citizens but took their instructions from Mexico.
The three suspects are scheduled to appear for another hearing July 21 in Greenville, N.C.