Businessman Linked to Rivera Plane Crash had Prior Convictions

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    NUEVO LEON, MEXICO - DECEMBER 10: Rescue teams and Federal Police search for the plane where Singer Jenni Rivera was traveling on December 10, 2012 in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

    The jet that was carrying star singer Jenni Rivera had been substantially damaged in a 2005 landing accident at Amarillo International Airport in Texas, federal aviation records show.

    The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says Christian Esquino Nunez, a Mexican businessman with close ties to San Diego, owns the Las Vegas-based company Starwood Management, which owns the plane, according to federal court records.

    Built in 1969, the plane twin-turbojet hit a runway distance marker in 2005 after losing directional control. No one was injured.

    Esquino has been convicted on numerous counts of falsifying aircraft records and drug-trafficking charges, court records show.

    The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has seized two of Starwood’s planes – one that landed in Tucson, Arizona and another that landed in McAllen, Texas this year, according to the DEA.

    Mexican authorities are searching for Esquino, asking him to provide maintenance records and other information about the plane that crashed Sunday. He did not return multiple requests for comment.

    Several law enforcement sources told NBC7 that Esquino is scheduled to testify in Mexico City on Friday as a witness in a criminal case between the Mexican government and a Coronado woman.

    The Mexican government claims a San Diego-based business firm and Gabriela Davila-Cueto, a real estate agent from Coronado, attempted to use one of Esquino’s planes to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, into Mexico.

    Esquino claims to have tape-recorded planning sessions of the failed smuggling plot for the Mexican government.

    The defendants, who have been held in Mexico since their December 2011 arrest, maintain their innocence, saying they were on a fact-finding mission to Libya. Both defendants were business associates of San Diego-based Veritas Worldwide Security.

    The head of that company, Gregory Gillespie, said there was never any smuggling plot and that evidence in the Mexican government’s case is being fabricated.

    A DEA agent said Tuesday the agency does not know where Esquino is.

    In the 90’s, Esquino Nuñez was accused of providing aircrafts to smugglers who transported 487 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to South Florida, according to federal court records.

    Esquino pleaded guilty in federal court in Orlando, Florida in 1993 to conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.

    He was also sentenced in 2004 for conspiracy to commit fraud involving an aircraft in Southern California. Those charges related to falsifying airplane maintenance records, according to court records. After serving two years in U.S. prison for those charges, he was deported to Mexico.

    In a lawsuit between Starwood and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the company is attempting to recover an aircraft seized by the DEA. In court affidavits, the company claims Esquino is not involved in Starwood and that Norma Gonzalez is the only member of the company.

    In June, the DEA subpoenaed financial documents from Gonzalez showing the business relationships of Veritas Worldwide Security, Gabriela Davila-Cueto and Starwood Management.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.