The wife of a slain Canadian executive has been charged with having him killed, federal officials said Friday — a stunning turnabout that could lead to freedom for a man prosecutors say was apparently wrongfully sentenced to 105 years in prison.
A U.S. grand jury this week charged Aurea Vazquez Rijos with offering a man $3 million to kill real estate developer Adam Anhang, a Winnipeg native who moved to Puerto Rico a year before the 2005 attack. The FBI said it is hunting for Vazquez.
"We felt that she was involved from the beginning," said the victim's father, Abe Anhang. "This confirms it. We hope they will arrest her and bring her to justice."
Prosecutor Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said Friday that FBI investigators determined the man convicted of the crime in October, Jonathan Roman Rivera, was innocent — and they arrested another man, Alex Pabon Colon, on charges of killing Anhang.
Rodriguez said the two men could easily have been mistaken for one another.
"Throughout this investigation we have been concerned that a miscarriage of justice occurred through the wrongful conviction of Jonathan Roman," Rodriguez said.
The Puerto Rican Justice Department will ask a court to release Roman on bond while it reinvestigates the slaying in light of the new evidence, said Jose Delgado Rodriguez, the island's assistant attorney general.
A pending divorce
Anhang, 32, had developed beach-front condominiums and hotels in the U.S. Caribbean territory and also was chief executive officer of an online gambling company based in Costa Rica.
He was beaten and stabbed to death on Sept. 23, 2005, as he and his wife were walking from a restaurant in Old San Juan where they discussed their pending divorce.
Wednesday's grand jury indictment charges Vazquez and Pabon with conspiracy and use of an interstate facility, namely the telephone, in a murder-for-hire conspiracy. Each faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
According to the indictment, Vazquez offered Pabon money and lured Anhang to the tourist district the night of his death. The indictment said two other unidentified people were involved in the plot.
After Anhang's death, Vazquez refused to cooperate with investigators and filed a civil suit against her late husband's family, seeking a portion of his estate.
An attorney for Vazquez in San Juan did not immediately respond to a phone message Friday.
Others linked to death?
Luis Fraticelli, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Puerto Rico, said Vazquez is known to be living outside U.S. territory and his agency is trying to locate and arrest her. He also said he expects more arrests: "We know that there are others involved."
Fraticelli said the FBI investigation began after Abe Anhang approached him with concerns that the local investigation was too narrowly focused, starting as an insurance fraud probe.
Roman's attorney, Jose Troche, said his client has always insisted he had no role in the killing. "Nobody ever listened. This is the worst investigated case I have ever seen," he said.
Homicide detectives in San Juan said they had clues Pabon was involved, but dropped that angle due to lack of resources once their investigation latched on to Roman, according to Fraticelli.
Fraticelli said the federal investigation intensified once Roman was convicted because authorities worried the wrong person was in prison.
Abe Anhang said he hopes Roman is released if he is proved innocent and he does not fault local investigators.
"The FBI's resources and reach are much greater than the local authorities," he said.
The local assistant attorney general, Rodriguez, said the department will study whether changes are needed to "boost confidence in the Puerto Rican criminal justice system."