Mexican businessman Christian E. Esquino Nuñez, linked to the U.S. company whose plane crashed on Sunday killing “La Diva de la Banda” Jenni Rivera and six other people, has been convicted of falsifying aircraft records and government inspection stamps. Nuñez is also guilty of drug-trafficking charges, owes millions in state and federal taxes, and even owes money to the norteño band Los Tigres del Norte.
According to Mexico‘s Secretary of Communications and Transportation, the Learjet belonged to Nevada-based Starwood Management, and according to lawsuits filed against the company, Esquino Nuñez heads the firm’s business matters.
Although the Learjet in which Rivera was traveling, built in 1969, was not one of the aircrafts cited in the legal action initiated by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California in 2002, a federal grand jury indicted Esquino Nuñez and his employee Lance Z. Ricotta on charges of “creating false and fictitious logbooks” for six aircraft that they purchased from the Mexican government and sold to buyers in the United States.
According to court records, Esquino Nuñez provided an “unidentified individual with blank logbooks for the purpose of creating false and fictitious logbooks” for the aircraft and had the logs deliberately altered in order to sell the planes at significantly higher prices.
An aircraft’s logbook provides its maintenance and inspection history, and also discloses any major problems and ensuing repairs such as “airframe damage from accident, engine failure, engine overhauls and modifications,” states the indictment, filed in the Southern District of California.
Nuñez and Ricotta also “obtained a counterfeit Mexican inspection stamp” to help falsify records and then provided the manipulated materials to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in application for airworthiness certificates, states court indictment records.
The plane records are of note, given the Learjet 25 which carried “La Diva de la Banda” is currently under investigation. According to the Associated Press, Mexican officials have begun inquiries regarding why the U.S. plane was transporting Rivera and other passengers between two Mexican destinations — travel that is currently against regulation.
In two civil lawsuits filed this year in a Nevada federal court, ABC/Univision reports two insurance companies alleged that the Mexican businessman hid his felony convictions when signing insurance policies for several of Starwood’s airraft. According to state records, Esquino Nuñez, also known as Ed Nuñez, is not listed as a registered employee of Starwood Management, and Starwood Management insists Esquino Nuñez is not part of the company in a lawsuit filed this year against the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“The only member of Starwood Management, LLC is its manager, Norma Gonzalez,” the complaint said. “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. Nuñez by Starwood.”
Federal court records also show that in the 90’s, Nuñez was indicted in Florida for providing aircrafts to drug smugglers who transported 487 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to South Florida. In 1993, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring to conceal cash flows from the Internal Revenue Service.
UPDATE Dec. 14, 2012 10:33 PM: In an earlier version of this story, it was incorrectly stated that a federal grand jury had convicted Christian E. Esquino Nuñez and Lance Z. Ricotta. The grand jury indicted the two men, who then pled guilty in March 2004. Also, while the original story stated the two men were partners, the federal indictment characterized Ricotta as an employee and associate of Nuñez.