Federal authorities announced Wednesday that they have solved the high-profile killing of a former Indiana banking executive slain more than seven years ago in a drive-by shooting on one of Puerto Rico's busiest highways.
Suspected drug traffickers targeted Maurice Spagnoletti in the June 2011 shooting because he was investigating improper bank transactions, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez told The Associated Press. Spagnoletti had moved with his wife to Puerto Rico eight months before the killing to become an executive vice president at Doral Bank, where he had begun questioning its accounting practices.
Spagnoletti was former president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp's central Indiana operations in Indianapolis. He joined Fifth Third in 2000 and served as Central Indiana Region CEO from 2002 to 2006, succeeding veteran banker Mike Alley.
The FBI offered a $20,000 reward in the case in 2016. Spagnoletti, a New jersey native, was 56 when he was shot multiple times in his Lexus while slowing down for a backup on the highway between his office and his home, where he lived with his wife and 6-year-old daughter.
Six men have been charged in the case, including four who are facing murder charges. Four of the suspects were already in prison on other charges and two others were arrested at their homes in northern Puerto Rico early Wednesday, Rodriguez said. All six face a potential death penalty.
Rodriguez said one of the suspects, Rolando Rivera Solis, owned a cleaning company that had received millions of dollars under a maintenance contract with the bank that Spagnoletti had canceled as part of his investigation because he found the amount "outlandish."
"The company was being used for a money-laundering vehicle," she said. "Spagnoletti became an encumbrance. So they had him killed."
Doral Bank has since been bought by Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and others. Prior to moving to Puerto Rico, Spagnoletti had worked in South Carolina, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
The suspects facing murder charges were identified as Rivera, Luis Carmona Bernacet, Yadiel Serrano Canales and Alex Burgos Amaro. Charged with aiding and abetting a murder were Alan Lugo and Fabiany Almestica. It was not immediately clear if the suspects had attorneys. Authorities said the suspects are members of an organization responsible for at least two other killings.
Rodriguez declined to provide more details including the amount of the contract, saying it was part of the evidence that would be revealed at trial. However, she said the owner of the cleaning company also served as head of a Santeria group that the alleged drug traffickers relied on to protect their organization. She said the suspects would wear amulets and conduct religious ceremonies before committing crimes.
She added that the investigation in the Spagnoletti case is ongoing.
"We believe there are other people that might be involved, and we are going after them," she said.
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, Rivera Solis, 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 today with Spagnoletti’s murder. Also charged was 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 today that Rivera and Motombo were involved in dealing cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana. They used the 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.
Rodriguez 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 Bernacet, aka Canito Cumbre, and 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.
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 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.”