Local News

Kidnapping plot tied to Mexican drug cartel, federal documents allege

Posted July 16, 2014 1:03 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2014 10:32 a.m. EDT

— A man rescued in Cumberland County in what authorities say was a complex kidnapping plot had been delivering drugs for a Mexican drug cartel and owed it $200,000 for marijuana, according to a federal complaint filed Wednesday.

FBI agents found the unidentified 23-year-old victim chained and blindfolded at a home in Roseboro around 5 a.m. Tuesday, six days after he was kidnapped in St. Matthews, S.C., while he was on his way to work.

The criminal complaint said the victim's fiancée found his truck parked in a neighbor's yard on July 9 and that the keys were in the ignition and the motor running. She received more than a dozen calls over the next several days with ransom demands that ranged between $100,000 and $400,000.

The phone calls, which originated from Mexico, led authorities on a nationwide search for the victim before investigators focused their efforts on a home at 13943 N.C. Highway 210 South, about 160 miles from St. Matthews.

Three men – Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales, 26, Reuben Ceja-Renjal, 57, and Luis Castro-Villeda, 22 – were also arrested Tuesday and face federal kidnapping charges.

They were arraigned at a federal courthouse in Raleigh Wednesday and will likely face extradition back to South Carolina.

Investigators said they expect more arrests.

The criminal complaint against the suspects said the victim was involved in delivering cocaine, marijuana and money throughout South Carolina and North Carolina. He is currently not in police custody and does not face any criminal charges.

"Right now he's a victim, and we will have to look at that very carefully," David Thomas, FBI special agent in charge in Columbia, S.C., said.

Several months ago, the man received about $200,000 worth of marijuana from the cartel and delivered it to another dealer, but he could not repay the cartel, according to court papers. Investigators are not sure whether he stole the marijuana or was ripped off by the dealer.

Thomas said the victim believed he was being pulled over by police officers when he was abducted at gunpoint. The complaint says the man later told agents that he tried to cut off his restraints with a knife, but a kidnapper discovered his attempt and hit him in the jaw and pointed a gun at him.

Thomas said the man had some injuries but none of them were severe.