Jenni Rivera: Exec linked to plane had been sued by Los Tigres
An executive at the company that owned the plane carrying Latina pop singer Jenni Rivera that crashed in Mexico this month had previously been sued by a San Jose-based band over an airplane sale gone awry, records showed.
Los Tigres del Norte, a San Jose-based norteño band originally from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, planned to buy an airplane from Christian E. Esquino Nuñez "to meet the needs of their extensive performance travel," according to a statement released through a spokesman for the group. But after that sale went bad, the internationally known group sued Esquino in 2001.
The group had put down a $400,000 deposit after agreeing to pay about $6 million for a Gulfstream Model G-11SP airplane, according to court documents. A document outlining the agreement also specified that the band would be allowed to use a "comparable aircraft for charter purposes" until the sale was complete.PHOTOS: Fans remember Jenni Rivera
But after Esquino delivered the plane, the band said the aircraft did not live up to the contract and demanded its deposit back. When Esquino refused, the band sued for breach of contract and fraud. Esquino countersued, arguing that the band owed him more than $600,000 for the flights it took before deciding not to go through with the sale.
After a lengthy battle, Esquino agreed in 2005 to give the band $200,000, but never paid up. Esquino said in a telephone interview that he had agreed to the judgment "basically to get them off my back." At the time, he was preparing to serve a prison sentence for conspiring with associates to falsify records documenting the history of planes they bought and sold. After serving two years, he was deported to Mexico.
A person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for Los Tigres del Norte, said the plane delivered was not the same one the band had been testing and was "in pretty shoddy shape," and band members were worried that it was unsafe.
Esquino disputed those accusations.
"Everybody now is going to say they have safety concerns about everything they did with me," he said. "In essence, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that airplane. We ended up selling it later to someone else, and it flew fine and never had a problem."
Esquino told The Times that at the time of the fatal crash, Rivera had been in the final stages of buying the Learjet 25 she was riding in for $250,000. The plane belonged to Las Vegas-based Starwood Management, a company associated with Esquino, although his position in the company is unclear.
Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the plane crash that killed the pop star and six others in a remote, mountainous area in Mexico.
Esquino and Starwood are also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which seized two of the company's planes in the last year, one in Texas and one in Arizona. A DEA spokeswoman said she could not disclose details of the probe because it is ongoing.
— Abby Sewell
Photo: Jenni Rivera at a March 2012 interview in Los Angeles. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press