Legal marijuana in the US might be undermining the power of Mexican cartels, but that didn’t stop one of them from kidnapping and attempting to ransom a South Carolina man they believed to have stolen 200 pounds of weed.
Kidnapped on July 9, the 23-year-old was rescued nearly 160 miles from his home, in North Carolina, on Tuesday, after FBI agents tracked calls made from the Tar Heel State to and from Mexico. Three men, Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales, Ruben Ceja-Rangel, and Luis Castro Villeda, are now being held on charges of conspiracy to kidnap. It is unknown which cartel the men belong to.
According to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI on Tuesday, the kidnapped man — referred to only as ES — was a drug runner for the cartel, delivering cocaine, marijuana, and money. His father — referred to as SG — also allegedly worked for the cartel, and told agents that the incident that precipitated the kidnapping occurred several months ago.
Things apparently went wrong when ES allegedly "fronted" $200,000 worth of weed to a client who promised to pay later, but summarily disappeared. However, as the complaint notes: “It is unclear at this point whether or not ES was actually ripped off as described, or whether SG and ES actually stole the marijuana themselves; however, the investigation into that matter is ongoing.”
The cartel demanded that ES and SG return the 200 pounds of marijuana or pay the $200,000, according to the complaint. They had neither, and stopped working for the cartel.
Then, on July 9, ES was allegedly stopped on his way to work in St. Matthews, South Carolina, by Fuentes-Morales, Ceja-Rangel, and Villeda, who were reportedly dressed as police officers. His truck was found in a nearby yard, still running, and with his belongings inside.
ES’s fiancee then apparently got involved when the cartel called her, requesting hundreds of thousands in ransom money. After ES was reported missing, the FBI began working with SG and the fiancee to track the calls, eventually locating him (and Ruben Ceja-Rangel and Luis Castro Villeda) in a house in Roseboro, North Carolina, where the victim was bound with ropes and chains.
Neither ES nor SG have yet been charged with any wrongdoing. "Right now he's a victim, and we will have to look at that very carefully," said FBI agent David Thomas.
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Photo via Wikimedia Commons