DEA in­ves­ti­gates com­pany that owned plane in crash

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Brian skoloff Latin mu­sic and tv star Jenni rivera died in the sun­day plane crash.

PHOENIX — The com­pany that owns a lux­ury jet that crashed and killed Latin mu­sic star Jenni Rivera is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the agency seized two of its planes ear­lier this year as part of the on­go­ing probe.

DEA spokes­woman Lisa Webb John­son con­firmed Thurs­day the planes owned by Las Ve­gas­based Star­wood Man­age­ment were seized in Texas and Ari­zona, but she de­clined to dis­cuss de­tails of the case. The agency also has sub­poe­naed all the com­pany’s records, in­clud­ing any cor­re­spon­dence it has had with a former Ti­juana mayor who U.S. law en­force­ment of­fi­cials have long sus­pected has ties to orga- nized crime.

The man widely be­lieved to be be­hind the avi­a­tion com­pany is an ex­con­vict named Chris­tian Esquino, 50, who has a long and check­ered le­gal past. Cor­po­rate records list his sis­ter-in-law as the com­pany’s only of­fi­cer, but in­surance com­pa­nies that cover some of the firm’s planes say in court doc­u­ments that the woman is merely a front.

Esquino’s le­gal woes date back decades. He pleaded guilty to a fraud charge that stemmed from a ma­jor drug in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Florida in the early 1990s and most re­cently was sen­tenced to two years in fed­eral prison in a Cal­i­for­nia avi­a­tion fraud case. Esquino, a Mex­i­can cit­i­zen, was de­ported on his re­lease. Esquino and other com­pa­nies he has ei­ther been in­volved with or owns have also been sued for fail­ing to pay mil­lions of dol­lars in loans, ac­cord­ing to court records.

The 43-year-old Cal­i­for­nia-born Rivera died at the peak of her ca­reer when the plane nose­dived into the ground while fly­ing from the north­ern Mex­i­can city of Mon­ter­rey to the cen­tral city of Toluca early Sun­day. She was per­haps the most suc­cess­ful fe­male singer in gru­pero, a male-dom­i­nated Mex­ico re­gional style, and had branched out into act­ing and re­al­ity tele­vi­sion.

The star made her fi­nal jour­ney home ac­compa- nied by three brothers on a Thurs­day night flight from Mex­ico to Long Beach, Calif. Es­corted by po­lice, her cas­ket was then driven to a Long Beach mor­tu­ary, where dozens of fans waited. Other fans gath­ered out­side her mother’s home in nearby Lake­wood.

It re­mained un­clear Fri­day what caused the crash and why Rivera was on Esquino’s plane. The 78-year-old pi­lot and five other peo­ple were also killed. Esquino was not on the plane. Esquino told the Los An­ge­les Times in a phone in­ter­view from Mex­ico City that the singer was con­sid­er­ing buy­ing the air­craft from Star­wood and the flight was a test ride. He dis­puted re­ports that he owns Star­wood, main­tain­ing that he is merely op­er­a­tions man­ager.

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