Federal investigators said Monday they are seeking the public's assistance in identifying the individuals involved in the disappearance of a car salesman who was abducted in broad daylight in San Gabriel more than a month ago.
Ruochen "Tony" Liao, 28, is believed to have been abducted by three men in two separate vehicles from the San Gabriel Square shopping center the evening of July 16, Gene Kowel, the assistant special agent in charge at the FBI's Los Angeles office, said in a press briefing.
Liao is a Chinese national who has lived in Santa Ana for several years after originally coming to the U.S. to attend college. He was living in the U.S. on a visa and ran a business selling high-end vehicles, Kowel said.
Family attorney Matthew Lombard said Liao was abducted during a meeting he'd arranged with business associates.
Investigators have developed several "working theories" to explain his disappearance, Kowel said. "One theory is that this could be the result of a business dealing, but it could also be a robbery."
Bystanders reported seeing him being kidnapped from the shopping center at 140 W. Valley Blvd. around 7:30 p.m. Liao was driven away by a man in a dark-colored minivan, which was accompanied by a dark SUV carrying another two men.
"We do know that some of the individuals he was involved with may not have been the most reputable," Kowel said. "However, at this point, we have not yet confirmed the motivation for this kidnapping."
Only one of the men was actually seen by a witness, who provided a description to Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators. That man has been identified as "David," Kowel said, though nothing more is known about him.
Detectives are hoping to learn more about that suspect. He's described as a Chinese man about 35 to 40 years old who is about 6 feet tall and speaks Mandarin.
David does appear to be someone Liao may have been acquainted or had some sort of relationship with, Kowel said, noting that they weren't meeting up as strangers.
Shortly after he disappeared, Liao's family in China received calls demanding $2 million in ransom. However, the initial demand was not followed up, and the caller has made no further contact in the month since, Kowel said.
Both the FBI and the victim's family are offering a reward in the case. The FBI has attached $25,000 to information that could lead to Liao's recovery, alive or deceased, while his family has put up another $150,000 for information leading to his safe return.
"We're negotiable with the reward that we're willing to pay for this," family attorney Lombard said. "He's a deeply loved person by his family. He's their only child, and they're very, very concerned for him."
Investigators did not publicize Liao's case before because they were working leads that media attention could have jeopardized, but now they're hoping the public can provide new information to advance the investigation, Kowel said.
"Our hope is that Tony is still alive, and we're operating under the premise that he is still alive, which is why this reward and this publicity is so crucial to the case," he said. "However, we do become concerned, as these cases progress, the chance of someone remaining alive can diminish."
Liao, 28, is described as being about 5 feet 6 inches and weighing around 140 pounds with black hair and black eyes. Detectives believe he's still in the U.S.
Anyone with information can contact the FBI's L.A. field office at 310-477-6565. Anonymous tips can be submitted via the agency's website at tips.fbi.gov.