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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Murder-for-Hire Verdict Upheld by 11th Circuit

(CN) - Affirming a murder-for-hire conviction, the 11th Circuit refused to throw out evidence of the defendant recording offering hush money to a potential witness.

The bizarre plot began with Elliot Rivera loaning millions of dollars to an associate, complete with a high interest rate, and taking out a $5 million insurance policy on the individual.

Rivera ran a satellite-dish business called All Things Digital, but the March 12 ruling out of Atlanta notes that prosecutors tied Rivera's wealth to his regular purchasing of stolen equipment.

He loaned $3.5 million to Caldera, whose surplus-airplane business had taken a hit during the recession, between 2004 and 2010.

Caldera offered to repay Rivera's $3.5 million loan with airplane parts that he claimed were worth $14 million, but Rivera later learned that the parts were worth only $80,000.

Rivera nevertheless loaned Caldera another $350,000 to buy airplane parts that they could sell.

When Caldera instead used the money to pay off his other creditors, Rivera told Caldera that he had heard "somebody was going to put a bullet in (Caldera's) head." He offered to lend another $1.5 million to Caldera in exchange for being made the beneficiary of a life-insurance policy that would cover the debt, then totaling $5 million. Caldera agreed.

One year later, Rivera contacted Ricardo Rodriguez, from whom he sometimes purchased stolen cable equipment. Rivera told Rodriguez he would pay $100,000 for the murder of a man who had stolen $4 million from him.

Apparently a bankruptcy court had just subpoenaed Caldera, and Rivera worried that the man might testify about who gave him a $4 million loan.

Reluctant to face questions about how he amassed his fortune, Rivera persuaded Rodriguez that Caldera swindled his business clients and beat his wife and children.

Rodriguez turned to a friend, described in the ruling only as "Jorge," for help arranging a $50,000 hit.

Both Jorge and the purported hit man, "Arturo," were actually FBI informants.

Rodriguez found himself under arrest when he gave Rivera's $25,000 to Arturo for the murder.

He called his wife, Lucienne, and asked her to call Rivera, "the only one that was going to be able to help."

When Rodriguez and Lucienne later agreed to cooperate with the government, Lucienne wore a wire and recorded her conversations with Rivera.

In one taped conversation, Rivera agreed to pay $100,000 for Rodriguez's silence and for a purported tape of the conversation when the hit-man payment took place. The FBI swooped in to arrest Rivera.

Appealing his Florida conviction, Rivera argued that Lucienne's part of the conversation should have been excluded as inadmissible hearsay.

Shooting down that argument last week, the 11th Circuit noted that Rivera would have the jury hear "only a soliloquy by the defendant, with no knowledge of the substance of any comments by others to whom the defendant was responding."

Several of Lucienne's statements were not hearsay because they were false, the ruling notes. For example, she told Rivera that her husband would be "a man" and take the blame, when in fact he was cooperating with the government.

Rivera also failed to show that the prosecutor committed misconduct in his cross-examination. Though the prosecutor should not have asked Rivera if other witnesses were lying, these errors were harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence against Rivera, the court found.

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