A Newark man is among eight people charged with kidnapping a Philadelphia man whose body was found in the woods in Maryland.
If convicted, the men could face a mandatory sentence of life in prison, and all but one could also face the death penalty.
The defendants were identified as Jose Bernal, 30, of Newark; Ivan Rangel Prieto, 34, of Asheboro, N.C.; Jose Castillo, 44, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Jose Delgado, 40, of Warminster, Pa.; Salvador Sanchez Guerrero, 47, of Philadelphia; Robert Favors, 39, of Philadelphia; John Perkins, 31, of Philadelphia; and Fermín Perez Mejia, 35, of Norristown, Pa.
“Anyone willing to abduct another human being and try to trade their life for money is a danger to society,” Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division, said in a prepared statement. “Just imagine the terror of being kidnapped, restrained, and at the total mercy of armed criminals. The FBI will never stop working to make our communities safer from violent thugs who care nothing for the lives of others.”
Prosecutors said the kidnapping was an attempt to settle a perceived debt owed by the victim, Luis Alejandro Chueder Ramon. The defendants allegedly arranged to meet Ramon on June 19, 2018, under the ruse of examining a property of his for use in a drug-trafficking operation.
However, according to the indictment, instead of talking business, Bernal, Prieto, Castillo, DelGado, Guerrro, Favors and Perkins grabbed Ramon on a street in Philadelphia and forced him into an SUV, restraining him with duct tape, handcuffs and zip ties.
They drove him to a garage in Chester County to confront him about the debt. Over the next two days, they placed several calls to Ramon’s wife demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom, prosecutors allege.
At some point, Ramon was shot in the head, and Bernal and four others drove his body to Cecil County, Md., and dumped it in a wooded area north of Port Deposit, according to the indictment.
Abiding by the demands of the ransom calls, Ramon’s wife did not immediately involve the police and paid the ransom June 21, not knowing that Ramon was already dead, authorities said.
She called police several days later.
Ramon’s body was discovered Aug. 30 by a man who was walking in the woods near Route 222, across the road and south of the Union Hotel restaurant.
“It was a short distance off of the roadway. It was between the roadway and the water,” Lt. Michael Holmes, a spokesman for the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, said at the time.
After identifying the remains as those of Ramon through dental records, police released surveillance photos of two of the men suspected in the kidnapping.
Following months of investigation, a federal grand jury indicted the eight men earlier this month. All eight are charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, seven of them are charged in the actual kidnapping, and five also face weapons charges.
“As alleged in the indictment, these ruthless individuals are a serious threat to the safety of our neighborhoods – not just in Philadelphia, but the entire mid-Atlantic region and beyond,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said.
Reporter Carl Hamilton contributed to this article