Jenni Rivera Plane Crash: DEA Investigates Troubled Mexican Businessman
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has launched an investigation into the aviation company that owns the plane that crashed in Northern Mexico on Sunday, killing all seven passengers aboard including Latin pop superstar Jenni Rivera.
The Associated Press reports that the DEA has been investigating Starwood Management, which is based in Las Vegas, and seized a pair of its jets earlier in 2012.
Fifty-year-old Mexican businessman Christian Esquino is allegedly at the reins of Starwood, using his sister-in-law -- publicly stated in corporate records as the company's sole executive -- as a front, according to the AP.
But in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Esquino shot down reports that he owns Starwood, saying that he's only an operations manager. He said Rivera, 43, was mulling a purchase of the luxury jet for $250,000 and her fateful flight on Sunday was pitched as a free "demo."
As previously reported, Esquino has quite a rap sheet, with past convictions for falsifying court records, counterfeiting government inspection stamps and drug trafficking. He also owes millions of dollars in state and federal taxes, as well as an undisclosed amount to the norteño band Los Tigres del Norte, according to records examined by Univision News.
The National Transportation and Safety Board is working with the Mexican government on its probe into the crash.
In 2005, Esquino was convicted by a federal grand jury on charges of "creating false and fictitious logbooks" for six aircraft that he purchased from Mexico's government and sold to U.S. buyers. He was sentenced to two years in prison, and deported to Mexico.
According to the court documents, he altered important records regarding the planes' overall condition, total operating hours and history of maintenance and inspection in order to sell the planes at significant mark-ups.
A decade earlier, Esquino was indicted in Florida on drug trafficking charges. In 1993, he pled guilty to conspiring to conceal from the Internal Revenue Service and was sentenced to five years in prison.
In February and September of this year, DEA authorities seized two Starwood planes that landed in Tucson, Arizona, and McAllen, Texas, respectively, via Mexico. Last spring, the agency subpoenaed Starwood records including records of the company's relationship with Esquino and a dozen-plus companies and people such as ex-Tijuana mayor Jorge Hank-Rhon, a gambling titan suspected of involvement with organized crime (which he's denied), the AP reported.
"Obviously my past — there is a story to it," Esquino told the LA Times, stressing that he thinks the jet was in good shape and that it may have crashed because of health problems having to do with the 78-year-old pilot.
"It's unavoidable that they are going to look at my past ... I think it's fair to bring it up right now and question it.," he said.