FT. LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – A Parkland businessman held hostage in China by his own employees is now on his way back home.

He was released late Wednesday night, after paying the workers some of the money they demanded.

Chip Starnes, is the co-owner of Specialty Medical Supplies which sells little medical devices like lancets here out of its Coral Springs office.   The products are made at the company’s factory in China.

“We were going to get t-shirts made up saying ‘Free Chip’ but I guess we don’t have to anymore because he’s free,” smiled Starnes’ longtime friend and business partner Les Capella.

Capella and Starnes’ family members said he is on a flight back to South Florida after he was held hostage for nearly a week by 100 of his own employees at their factory in China.

Capella described the exit strategy to CBS4’s Natalia Zea.

“There was some government officials from Beijing that came and got him and he was whisked out and put in one car and 2 blocks later put in another car and headed out to Beijing,” said Capella.

After his release around 11 p.m. Wednesday night, Starnes left the country after receiving a threat from a vendor.

“He just said it’s time to get out of here. And he did,” said Capella.

Last Friday, workers blockaded the exits and kept Starnes inside his office after unfounded rumors that the factory was shutting down spread through the workforce. The employees demanded the same severance packages recently laid off workers had been given. Some claimed they hadn’t paid their wages.

Starnes denied that.

He lost at least nine pounds being held prisoner and developed an eye infection. He was also denied access to blood pressure medication that he normally takes.

After six days in captivity, a lot of international press and days of negotiating Starnes and Capella made a deal which gave the workers an undisclosed amount of money.

“It’s sort of like paying a ransom but you know the most important thing was for Chip,” Capella admitted.

While Starnes’ wife and three kids anxiously await his safe return, Capella is keeping the company going. He said they will continue to do business in China and even re-hire the majority of the workers who turned on them.

“People would say that’s crazy,” said Zea.

“It’s a little bit different culture, a very different culture. You have to know it,” said Capella who added that the ringleaders of the hostage situation would not be rehired.

Starnes is expected to arrive in Fort Lauderdale Thursday night where his family and friends will be waiting for him. Starnes’ wife, Cecily Starnes told Zea, “It will be like Christmas around here.”


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