Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Brian Skoloff / The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
A March 8, 2012, photo of Mexican-American singer and reality TV star Jenni Rivera, who died at the peak of her career when the plane she was traveling in nose-dived into the ground while flying from the northern Mexican city of Monterrey to the central city of Toluca early Sunday morning.
"Castoro cooperated for years," she said. "We put hundreds of people in jail."
He eventually gave up another smuggler, Damian Tedone, who was indicted in the early 1990s along with Esquino and 11 others in a conspiracy involving drug smuggling in Florida in the 1980s at a time when the state was the epicenter of the nation's cocaine trade.
Tedone also cooperated with authorities and has since been released from prison. Telephone messages left Thursday for both Tedone and Castoro were not returned.
Esquino eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of concealing money from the IRS.
Joseph Milchen, Esquino's attorney at the time, said Thursday the case eventually revolved around his client "bringing money into the United States without declaring it."
However, Milchen acknowledged that a plane purchased by Esquino was "used to smuggle drugs."
He denied his former client has ever had anything to do with illegal narcotics.
"The only thing he has ever done is with airplanes," Milchen said.
Court filings also indicate Esquino was sentenced to two years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to committing fraud involving aircraft he purchased in Mexico, then falsified the planes' log books and re-sold them in the United States.
Also in 2004, a federal judge ordered him and one of his companies to pay a creditor $6.2 million after being accused of failing to pay debts to a bank.
As the years passed, Esquino's troubles only grew.
In February this year, a Gulfstream G-1159A plane valued at $1.5 million was seized by the U.S. Marshals Service on behalf of the DEA after landing in Tucson on a flight that originated in Mexico.
Four months later, the DEA subpoenaed all of Starwood's records dating to Dec. 13, 2007, including federal and state income tax documents, bank deposit information, records on all company assets and sales, and the entity's relationship with Esquino and more than a dozen companies and individuals, including former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank-Rhon, a gambling mogul and a member of one of Mexico's most powerful families. U.S. law enforcement officials have long suspected Hank-Rhon is tied to organized crime but no allegations have been proven. He has consistently denied any criminal involvement.
He was arrested in Mexico last year on weapons charges and on suspicion of ordering the murder of his son's former girlfriend. He was later freed for lack of evidence.
The subpoena was obtained by the U-T San Diego newspaper.
A Starwood attorney listed on the subpoena, Jeremy Schuster, declined Thursday to provide details.
"We don't comment on matters involving clients," he said.
In September, the DEA seized another Starwood plane — a 1977 Hawker 700 worth $1 million — after it landed in McAllen, Texas from a flight from Mexico.
Insurers of both aircraft have since filed complaints in federal court in Nevada seeking to have the Starwood policies nullified, in part, because they say Esquino lied in the application process when he noted he had never been indicted on drug-related criminal charges. Both companies said they would not have issued the policies had he been truthful.
Another attorney for Starwood has not responded to phone and email messages seeking comment, and no one was at the address listed at its Las Vegas headquarters. The address is a post office box in a shipping and mailing store located between a tuxedo rental shop and a supermarket in a shopping center several miles west of the Las Vegas Strip.