Law enforcement agencies from across the United States helped rescue a man from South Carolina who was kidnapped and taken to Cumberland County, NC.
According to FBI officials, three men were posing as police officers when they abducted the young man and took him to a home in Cumberland County where they held the victim for ransom.
FBI Public Affairs Specialist Denise Taiste said the victim was successfully recovered via a multi-agency rescue effort around 5 a.m. Tuesday.
"He was being held and he was being guarded while he was there to make sure he didn't escape," FBI Special Agent in Charge David Thomas said. "He had some injuries. He was immediately treated with medical attention. He was later released to his family."
Luis Castro-Villeda, Ruben Ceja-Renjal and Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales have been arrested and investigators say they expect to make more arrests.
According to a criminal complaint filed by FBI Special Agent Luke Davis in Columbia, SC, the three men and others were part of a Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization.
The criminal complaint also says agents learned during the investigation the victim and his father were both working for a Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization based in North Carolina.
According to the victim's father and other witnesses, work for the organization included delivering cocaine, marijuana and money to locations in both South and North Carolina.
The criminal complaint reveals the father told officials the victim delivered several months ago $200,000 worth of marijuana to a customer who never ended up paying. The trafficking organization held the victim and his father responsible, but according to the criminal complaint, the victim stopped working for the organization because they could not pay the debt.
Davis said in the criminal complaint the victim was supposed to pick up a co-worker on his way to work July 9, 2014 around 6:45 a.m., but never arrived.
The co-worker sent a text to the victim's fiancé to see if she knew where he was. The victim's fiancé was concerned so she called his employer around 10 a.m., but was advised he did not know where the victim was.
"The victim was on his way to work," Thomas said. "The kidnappers used a ruse as a law enforcement person to pull him over. He was immediately snatched out of his truck and he was abducted."
According to the criminal complaint, the victim's fiancé found his truck parked in a neighbor's yard with the keys in the ignition.
Thomas says a neighbor came out and saw the truck in their driveway with the door open and the motor still running. At that point, the neighbor contacted the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department to investigate.
The victim's fiancé received a phone call around 9 p.m. that night from one of the hostage takers who, according to phone records, was calling from Mexico to let her know they had her fiancé.
"Very early into the investigation we immediately started getting calls originating out of Mexico that wanted demands and money demands for the release of our victim," Thomas said. "There were multiple phone calls and demands. It became obvious this was being orchestrated from another country."
Davis believes Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morlaes was acting as the mediator between his leadership contacts with the drug trafficking organization who were making the demand and contacting the victim's family.
An additional 13 calls were made between July 10 and 15, 2014 with ransom demands varying between $100,000 and $400,000. They also demanded the return of the marijuana the victim had allegedly lost.
Several federal search warrants were issued July 14 and agents located Fuentes-Morales July 15 around 3 a.m. at a residence on Old Fayetteville Road in Garland, NC. Funetes-Morales denied knowing anything about a kidnapping, according to the criminal complaint.
About two hours later, agents located Ruben Ceja-Rangel and Luis Castro Villenda at a home on NC Hwy 210 South in Robeson, NC, where they had the victim chained and blindfolded.
According to the criminal complaint, the victim said Ceja-Rangel pointed a gun at him during the initial abduction and told him to get inside the vehicle.
In addition to the South Carolina and North Carolina law enforcement agencies involved in the case, FBI officials credited investigators at field offices in Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville, Newark, New Haven, Norfolk, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and LEGAT Mexico City for their help in the search.
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