The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 14, 2012

Owner of Rivera plane being investigated by DEA

— PHOENIX (AP) — The company that owns a luxury jet that crashed and killed Mexican pop superstar 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 Vegas-based 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 organized crime.

The man widely believed to be behind the aviation company is an ex-convict 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 and that Esquino is the one in charge.

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 upon his release. Esquino and various 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 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. 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.

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