U.S. says Puerto Rican gangsters killed Doral banker in 2011

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U.S. prosecutors have accused four alleged Puerto Rican drug traffickers with the murder of banker Maurice Spagnoletti, seven years after he was gunned down on a San Juan highway as he drove home from work.

The four men were among six indicted by a grand jury on multiple charges of drug trafficking, weapons violations and murder as part of a wider probe, according to an emailed statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

Spagnoletti, a 57-year-old from New Jersey, had moved to Puerto Rico to become the No. 2 executive at struggling Doral Bank a few months before he was murdered. The drive-by assassination, conducted at rush hour in the island's capital, attracted national attention and confounded authorities.

"The prosecutors and investigators assigned to this case were unwavering in their tireless dedication to see that these brutal murders would not go unsolved," Douglas Leff, the FBI's special agent in charge for San Juan, said in the statement. "While the unimaginable pain of the family members of these victims can never be resolved, the justice system will ensure that those responsible pay dearly for their willingness to kill another human being in furtherance of their own greed."

Theories about Spagnoletti's death abounded in San Juan banking circles during the years the case was unsolved. His widow, Marisa, sued Doral Bank in 2013, saying her husband was killed because he uncovered fraud at the bank and fired an executive he suspected of embezzlement. Doral's lawyers called her claims ridiculous, and she withdrew the suit.

But the widow was onto something, former Doral executives and people familiar with the investigation told Bloomberg Businessweek for a 2016 story. The people said at the time that signs pointed to Spagnoletti being killed because he uncovered fraud at the bank. They also described a bizarre scheme.

The former executives said that high-ranking officials at Doral had hired a Santeria priest, Rolando Rivera Solís, to perform rituals in the bank's boardroom, then rewarded him with an inflated contract to handle janitorial services. Some said the rituals had involved a caiman, an alligator-like reptile.

Rivera's lawyer said at the time that the payments he received from the bank were for legitimate janitorial services and that he had nothing to do with Spagnoletti's murder.

Rivera was among the individuals charged Wednesday with Spagnoletti's murder. Also charged was Yadiel Serrano Canales, aka Motombo, a gangster who was already in custody for allegedly attempting to murder police officers. A person with knowledge of the investigation told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2016 that Motombo worked for Rivera's janitorial company.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that Rivera and Motombo were involved in dealing cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana. They used a janitorial company as a cover, the U.S. said. They also conducted Santeria rituals to gain supernatural protection for their illegal activities, according to prosecutors.

Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. attorney for Puerto Rico, told El Nuevo Dia on Wednesday that Spagnoletti had canceled Rivera's contract with the bank.

The other men charged with Spagnoletti's murder are Luis Carmona Bernacet, aka Canito Cumbre, and Alex Burgos Amaro, aka Yogui. Prosecutors didn't give a motive for Spagnoletti's murder. They also didn't say who pulled the trigger or who ordered the hit. Carmona Bernacet was also accused of two other murders.

All four men charged with Spagnoletti's killing could face the death penalty, prosecutors said.

Years of digging

Leff was appointed to head the FBI's San Juan division in December 2015. Six months later, on the fifth anniversary of the shooting, he announced a reward for information leading to an arrest. "The more digging we do, the more potential avenues we find to work," Leff said at the time. "There may be different people with different levels of culpability."

Doral Bank collapsed in 2015, the biggest bank failure in the U.S. since 2010. Its assets have since been sold to rivals.

Marisa, Maurice's widow, now runs a company in New Jersey called Lucy's Gift that sells handbags and other fashion accessories to raise money for a foundation she set up to honor her late husband. She's told the story of how she and her young daughter built a new life after after the tragedy in numerous interviews, always maintaining that she was confident the FBI would solve the case.

"Respectfully, nothing brings my husband back, but what I feel today is a feeling of pride to be an American," Marisa Spagnoletti said in an interview after the announcement. "Every single American should know that these men and women protect us, and my faith in them was warranted all along. My message to criminals is that good conquers evil."

Bloomberg News
Crime and misconduct
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