Two men were convicted on multiple charges relating to the 2014 kidnapping of a St. Matthews man in federal court Friday.
Juan Fuentes-Morales, 27, and Ruben Ceja-Rangel, 58, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, kidnapping, hostage taking, brandishing firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence and lying to the FBI, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Ceja-Rangel also was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Evidence presented at the trial showed that the victim’s father owed a drug debt to members of a Mexican Drug Trafficking organization — or cartel — related to more than 200 pounds of marijuana the father was unable to sell, according to the release. Jurors listened to multiple phone calls recorded by FBI hostage negotiators, in which Mexican drug traffickers threatened to gouge the victim’s eyes and ultimately kill him if the father did not pay a ransom.
Kidnappers took the victim from his truck in July of last year and transported him to a residence in Garland, North Carolina, according to the release. The victim testified that when he tried to escape, Fuentes-Morales struck him and pointed a .25-caliber gun at him.
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After holding him in Garland for several hours, the victim’s abductors took him to a residence near Roseboro, North Carolina, where he was kept blindfolded and chained to a workout bench, the release says.
In the early morning hours of July 15, FBI SWAT Team members executed a search warrant at the residence and rescued the victim. Ceja-Rangel tried to run at the back of the building, but was captured quickly, according to the release.
Before locating the victim, operators with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team executed a search warrant in Garland and found the cellphone Fuentes-Morales had used during the kidnapping to communicate with drug traffickers in Mexico, according to the release. They also found the .25-caliber pistol the victim told officers that Fuentes-Morales had used to threaten him.
The defendants face a minimum of 32 years in prison on firearms charges alone, and could face life sentences on the kidnapping and hostage-taking charges, the release says. A sentencing hearing will be held after the United States Probation Office prepares a presenting report.
Judge Michelle Childs of Columbia presided over the trial and will sentence the defendants.
The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department initiated the case, and FBI agents from the Columbia Field Division and the Charlotte Field Division investigated. Assistant United States Attorneys J.D. Rowell and Kelly Wilson Hall of Columbia are prosecuting the case.