Antonia Aquas

LaBamba owner Antonia Aguas-Navarro discusses his experience as a kidnap victim during a 2007 interview.

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SPRINGFIELD — Despite the plea of a Champaign businessman that his kidnapper receive no reduction in sentence, a federal judge on Monday resentenced the kidnapper to 10 fewer years behind bars.

U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough called the 2006 actions of Francisco Villalobos, 46, also known as Adrian Lopez, “reprehensible” but said she could not ignore a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that had the effect of dismissing the count to which Villalobos had pleaded guilty for using a firearm during the kidnapping of Antonio Aguas-Navarro.

She then resentenced Villalobos to 21 years and 10 months for the kidnapping. Judge Michael McCuskey had sentenced him to 31 years and 10 months in 2007. Villalobos has served 14 years.

“He doesn’t deserve a second chance. He almost killed me two times,” said Antonio Aguas, now 56, of the ordeal he endured for five days in September 2006 after being kidnapped at gunpoint by two men from outside LaBamba, the restaurant he and his brother own at 1905 Glenn Park Drive, C.

“They were ready to kill me and chop me into pieces,” Aguas recounted at Villalobos’ resentencing Monday morning, which was conducted by video conference.

Myerscough was in Springfield, Villalobos appeared from the Livingston County jail in Pontiac, and Aguas and his older brother, Ramiro Aguas, who had to deal with the threats and ransom demands, were in Urbana with Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller. Villalobos’ attorney, Stanley Wasser, appeared from his office in Springfield.

Miller argued that the higher court’s decision, which took kidnapping out of the violent crime category, “thwarted” the intent of Congress, which made kidnapping punishable by up to life in prison.

“It’s important to note he’s here for resentencing, not because of new information, but because of the Supreme Court ruling in Davis,” Miller said of the June 2019 case.

The prosecutor then reminded the judge of some of the violent aspects of Aguas’ kidnapping, starting with how Villalobos forced Aguas at gunpoint into a truck driven by his then-18-year-old co-defendant, Terence Merritt.

Merritt, now 31, had his sentence reduced by Myerscough in late January on the same grounds from 30 to 18 years.

Miller said the kidnappers drove Aguas to a secluded field, stripped him down to his underwear and Villalobos fired a gun in his direction. Aguas ran but was caught by Villalobos, who hit him with the pistol in the head, cutting him.

The men blindfolded Aguas, bound his hands and feet and threw him in a trunk for hours, driving him to the first of three hotels in Indiana.

Villalobos then called Aguas’ brother Ramiro, who was in Mexico, and with the use of a device to disguise his voice, demanded $250,000, saying Antonio Aguas would be killed if they didn’t get the money.

Miller noted that for five days there were “repeated phone calls to his brother, they threatened to blow his head off, beat him, drown him in a river and cut him into pieces.”

The ransom demand ultimately increased to $5 million along with the threats of death if it wasn’t paid. Ramiro Aguas had immediately contacted the FBI, who helped put together a ransom package and ultimately rescued Antonio Aguas from a motel room in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Sept. 15, 2006.

The prosecutor noted Villalobos was the “instigator” and that he had persuaded the younger Merritt to participate then threatened Merritt and his family by telling Merritt that he had ties to the “Mexican mob.”

Aguas, Miller argued, “feared he was going to die a gruesome death,” and said the kidnapping alone, given the accompanying violence and mental anguish, warranted the original sentence imposed by McCuskey.

Wasser argued that Villalobos had taken responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty and that he was not the same man he was “when he went off the rails.” He had no prior criminal convictions.

Villalobos told the judge nothing could justify what he had done.

“I acknowledge that Antonio Aguas and his family have paid the price for my unlawful criminal behavior. Just to think about my actions today makes my stomach sick,” he said.

Villalobos said while imprisoned, he’s gotten his GED and certificates for carpentry, computer science, life coaching and being a tutor. He said his refusal to join a gang in prison has meant beating and the loss of privileges. That experience, he said, made him realize how “very, very wrong” his treatment of Aguas was.

“I would like to humbly and directly apologize to him and his family for the hurt I have caused them,” Villalobos said.

Myerscough said she was aware of the violence involved in the crime but said 21 years and 10 months protects the public, punishes Villalobos, sends an adequate message of deterrence, and avoids a large disparity between his and Merritt’s sentences.

After his release, Villalobos will have to serve five years of mandatory supervised release. He was not ordered to pay any restitution to the Aguas family, who Miller said closed their Charleston restaurant in the wake of the kidnapping.

Villalobos and Merritt are from Mattoon.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).