A Mexican businessman linked to the company whose jet crashed near Monterrey, Mexico on Sunday, killing star singer Jenni Rivera, 43, and six other people, has been convicted of falsifying aircraft records, counterfeiting government inspection stamps, and drug-trafficking charges, court records show.
The businessman, Christian E. Esquino Nuñez, also owes millions in state and federal taxes and even an undisclosed amount to the norteño band Los Tigres del Norte, according to state and court records examined by Univision News.
Now Esquino Nuñez may also have to field questions from Mexican authorities and investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) who are looking into what caused the crash.The NTSB has sent a team to Mexico to help the Mexican government in the investigation.
Mexico's Secretary of Communications and Transportation identified the aircraft as a Lear Jet belonging to Starwood Management. According to lawsuits filed against the Nevada-based company, Esquino Nuñez heads the firm's business activities.
In 2005, a federal grand jury convicted Esquino Nuñez and his partner Lance Z. Ricotta on charges of "creating false and fictitious logbooks" for six aircraft that Esquino Nuñez purchased from the Mexican government and sold to buyers in the United States.
According to court records, Esquino Nuñez obtained aircraft tail numbers, airport codes, pilot licenses and counterfeit inspection stamps with the intent of forging the logbooks. The altered records were used to sell the planes at significant mark-ups to buyers who depended on the logbooks to get a picture of the aircraft's overall condition, total operating hours and a history of maintenance and inspection.
"Forging the logbook is very dangerous given the lives of passengers is at risk," said aviation expert Hector Rotundo in an interview with Univision News.
The Lear Jet in which Rivera was traveling, built in 1969, was not one of the aircraft cited in the lawsuit initiated by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California.
Esquino Nuñez pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. He was later deported to Mexico, according to court records.
This was not Esquino Nuñez's first run-in with the law, however. A decade earlier he was indicted in Florida on drug trafficking charges. The United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida accused Esquino Nuñez of providing aircrafts to smugglers who transported 487 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to South Florida.
Esquino Nuñez pleaded guilty in 1993 to conspiring to conceal from the Internal Revenue Service "the existence, source and transfer of cash," court records show. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
The whereabouts of Esquino Nuñez remain unclear and Univision News's attempts to contact him were not immediately answered.
Anthony J. Celeste, an attorney representing Starwood, declined to comment.
Esquino Nuñez's troubled past has emerged in two civil lawsuits filed this year in federal court in Nevada by two insurance companies alleging that the Mexican businessman hid his felony convictions when signing insurance policies for several of Starwood's aircraft.
The plaintiffs' lawyers say they discovered the alleged fraud in the insurance papers after Starwood Management tried to collect the insurance policies on two of its aircraft that were seized by the DEA.
One of the planes is a Hawker 700 seized at the McAllen, Texas airport on September 12, 2012. The other is Gulfstream G-1159, which was seized in February in Tucson, Arizona.
In its lawsuit against Starwood, QBE Insurance Corporation alleges that Esquino Nuñez is the company's "alter ego'' and that the two are inseparable entities. Starwood denied the claim, court records show.
According to state records, Esquino Nuñez also known as Ed Nuñez, is not listed as a director or registered agent of Starwood Management.
In a lawsuit filed this year by Starwood against the Drug Enforcement Agency seeking to recover the Gulfstream G-1159 seized in Tucson, the company insists Esquino Nuñez is not part of the company.
"Starwood was the owner when the aircraft was initially registered with the [Federal Aviation Administration] and at the time the Aircraft was seized," the complaint says. "The only member of Starwood Management, LLC is its manager, Norma Gonzalez. When the Aircraft was formerly registered with the FAA by Starwood Management, LLC, the documents were signed by Mr. Ed Nuñez, operating through a power of attorney given to Mr. Nunez by Starwood."