Jenni Rivera: Plane Owner's Federal Conviction, Drug Past Hovers Over Investigation

A Mexican businessman tied with the company that owned the Learjet 25 that crashed Sunday morning, killing Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera and six others, was indicted in 1993 for drug smuggling in Florida and convicted in 2005 on charges of creating fraudulent logbooks for six air crafts that he later sold to buyers in the United States.

Christian E. Esquino Nuñez is linked to the owner of the crashed Learjet, Starwood Management of Las Vegas, which had one of its planes seized by the DEA in McAllen, Texas in September.

Nevada secretary of state records list only one Starwood officer — Norma González — but a lawsuit filed by QBE Insurer Crop. alleges that the company is owned and managed by Ed Nuñez, who, according to the lawsuit, is also known as Christian Esquino and has a long criminal history.

Starwood rejected the insurer's description of Esquino Nuñez's role at the company.

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According to 2005 federal court records in California, Esquino Nuñez fraudulently obtained pilot licenses, aircraft tail numbers, airport codes, and counterfeit inspection stamps to significantly mark-up the value of the planes that he later sold for profit. Nuñez pleaded guilty to the fraud charges and was sentenced to 24 in prison.

Esquino Nuñez did plead guilty in federal court in Orlando, Florida, in 1993 to conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. Court records also show that Esquino Nuñez was indicted in 1993 for drug smuggling in Florida where he provided airplanes to traffickers to transport 487 kilos of cocaine into South Florida from Colombia. Nuñez also pleaded guilty to conspiring to conceal from the IRS and was given a 5 year prison sentence.

Starwood Management  remains the subject of a federal lawsuit in Nevada by QBE  after one of Starwood's aircraft was ordered seized by the DEA when it landed in McAllen, Texas, from Mexico on Sept. 12. The New York-based insurer sued in October to rescind coverage for the Hawker 700 jet.

Starwood, in a court filing, acknowledged that the DEA was involved in the seizure of the aircraft.

QBE, based in New York, said the DEA also seized a Starwood-owned Gulfstream G-1159A — insured by another company — when it landed in Tucson from Mexico in February.

QBE continues to harp on Esquino Nuñez's criminal record in the lawsuit.

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Starwood said in its court filing that it didn't have enough information to address either the Florida or Southern California case against Esquino.

George Crow, an attorney for Starwood, did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left after business hours Monday by the Associated Press.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to help investigate the crash of the Learjet 25, which disintegrated on impact Sunday with seven people aboard in rugged terrain in Nuevo Leon state in northern Mexico.

The Learjet 25, number N345MC, was en route from Monterrey to Toluco, outside Mexico City, when it was reported missing about 10 minutes after takeoff.

The cause of the accident has not been determined.

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According to FAA records, the plane was built in 1969. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the twin-turbojet was substantially damaged in a 2005 landing mishap at Amarillo International Airport in Texas. It hit a runway distance marker after losing directional control. There were four people aboard but no injuries. It was registered to a company in Houston, Texas, at the time.

Reporting by the Associated Press.

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