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U.S. Says Puerto Rican Gangsters Killed Doral Banker in 2011

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. prosecutors charged three alleged Puerto Rican drug traffickers and a Santeria priest 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.

Spagnoletti was killed because he canceled an inflated contract the Santeria priest had to provide janitorial services to Doral Bank, according to Timothy Henwood, first assistant U.S. attorney for Puerto Rico. The priest, Rolando Rivera Solís, and three other men were indicted by a grand jury on multiple charges of drug trafficking, weapons violations and murder.

The 57-year-old Spagnoletti had moved from New Jersey 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. Spagnoletti was trying to clean up Doral and eliminate unnecessary spending when he discovered the inflated contract, Henwood said in an interview.

“He had it canceled,” Henwood said. “Very shortly after is when the murder took place.”

Rivera was what’s known as a babalawo, or Santeria high priest. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2016 that Doral executives had Rivera perform rituals in the bank’s boardroom. Some former employees said at the time that the rituals involved a caiman, an alligator-like reptile. Rivera was rewarded with an inflated contract to handle janitorial services, according to one of the former employees. Spagnoletti wasn’t part of the circle at the bank that practiced Santeria and may have found the inflated contract when he joined the company, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

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.

Henwood said Rivera’s Santeria clients included high-ranking executives at Doral, but he wouldn’t specify which ones. Asked whether some of them were complicit in the murder, the prosecutor didn’t rule it out. “It’s something that we’re exploring,” Henwood said. “We’re going to continue looking at all the angles.”

Rivera also performed Santeria rituals for the drug traffickers, one of whom is accused of two other murders, according to Henwood. They used him to gain what they believed was supernatural protection as they dealt cocaine, crack and marijuana, prosecutors said.

Rivera used his janitorial company to launder the drug profits and gave some of the traffickers jobs, Henwood said. The men would sometimes visit Doral’s offices while working for the janitorial company, he said.

“I don’t know how much actual cleaning these guys were doing,” Henwood said. “It’s a good way, according to our evidence, to launder money.”

Also charged with Spagnoletti’s murder was Yadiel Serrano Canales, aka Motombo, a gangster 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.

Others accused in Spagnoletti’s murder are Luis Carmona Bernacet, aka Canito Cumbre, and Alex Burgos Amaro, aka Yogui. Prosecutors didn’t say who pulled the trigger or ordered the hit. All four could face the death penalty, prosecutors said. Two other men were also indicted on drug charges as part of the case. Defense attorneys for Rivera and the others indicted in the Spagnoletti case couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Years of Digging

Doral Bank collapsed in 2015, the biggest bank failure in the U.S. since 2010. Its assets have since been sold to rivals. That year Douglas Leff was appointed to head the FBI’s San Juan division. Six months later, on the fifth anniversary of the shooting, he announced a reward for information leading to an arrest.

“The prosecutors and investigators assigned to this case were unwavering in their tireless dedication to see that these brutal murders would not go unsolved,” Leff said in a 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 murder charges echo some of her allegations.

Marisa 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 the tragedy in numerous interviews, maintaining 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 Wednesday, 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.”

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