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Suspect's extradition sought in triple murder in 1981

October 1, 2009 |  4:38 pm

California authorities filed court papers today seeking the extradition of a Miami-based ministry director who is suspected of killing a Cabazon Indian Reservation tribal leader and two other people in 1981 in an effort to stop them from exposing allegedly illegal activities on the reservation.

James "Jimmy" Hughes, 52, who also has lived in Honduras and runs a ministry that serves ex-convicts and provides counseling to battered women and drug addicts there, was arrested Saturday at Miami International Airport while attempting to return to the Central American country, authorities said. 

Hughes, a former Army Ranger who was security director for the casino and its bingo operations, was arrested after a joint probe that began in February by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and the California attorney general's office.

Hughes allegedly conspired with three others to kill Fred Alvarez and two other people before they could expose allegedly illegal activities on the reservation in rural Riverside County, according to a felony complaint for extradition filed today in Riverside County Superior Court.

He allegedly shot all three in June 1981, according to court records.

The slayings have been dubbed the Octopus Murders by detectives because of the complexity of the crime and the many theories that have circulated over the years regarding who committed them.

The Times reported in 1991 that the reservation casino room was run by a reputed organized crime figure and that Alvarez, a tribe vice president, began complaining that money was "being skimmed." Shortly afterward, he and the two others were killed.

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general's office because Hughes is a distant cousin of Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco. "Because of the potential conflict of interest, we are handling the case," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Hughes is fighting extradition, so state prosecutors are seeking a so-called governor's warrant in which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would request that the Florida governor issue a warrant to send Hughes to California.

Westrup said he expects the extradition process to be completed in the next month.

—Robert J. Lopez