DEA investigates company that owned plane in 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.