- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two silver luxury automobiles rolled into Orlando, Fla., in January 2006. Behind the wheel of the Porsche Gemballa GTR 600 Biturbo was Jose Negron Rivera, called “Nino Brown.” Driving the Lamborghini Murcielago was Angel Ayala-Vazquez. Better known as “Angelo Millones” and “El Buster,” he led Puerto Rico’s most powerful drug trafficking organization.

Ayala-Vazquez had just purchased the cars, valued at more than $400,000, from Washington Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez in Miami. Yet the cars, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Puerto Rico, remained in Mr. Hernandez’s name. The convoy was headed to the Walt Disney World Resort.

The transaction was explained among hundreds of pages of court transcripts and other documents obtained by The Washington Times. They illuminate Mr. Hernandez’s link to Ayala-Vazquez and his associates that first surfaced in testimony March 30.

Now the target of a federal money-laundering investigation, Mr. Hernandez is suspected of being a “straw buyer” for Ayala-Vazquez, according to a high-ranking law enforcement source. A straw buyer purchases items for others in their own name, allowing the proceeds from illegal activities such as drug trafficking to be hidden.

The 63-page indictment said the conspiracy by Ayala-Vazquez and his co-defendants used the “straw buyers” to purchase real estate, cars and businesses to make their drug profits appear legitimate.

During an impromptu news conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after Ayala-Vazquez’s conviction April 26, U.S. attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez was asked whether she expected charges to be filed against Mr. Hernandez.

“We’ll see with time, but the investigation continues. The answer is yes, correct,” Ms. Rodriguez-Velez said, according to El Nuevo Dia, a San Juan newspaper.

Federal investigations have three levels of people of interest: focus, subject and target. A target is the most advanced level. This means Mr. Hernandez has been advised he is under federal investigation, either in person or via a “target letter.”

Officials from Major League Baseball’s Department of Investigations met with the U.S. attorney’s office in San Juan to discuss the case May 18.

The two cars and a warehouse in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, described by federal prosecutors as a “clubhouse” for Ayala-Vazquez’s organization, are at the center of the investigation. All were in Mr. Hernandez’s name, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, but Ayala-Vazquez actually owned them.

That is the only property connecting Mr. Hernandez and Ayala-Vazquez, according to a second law enforcement source.

Witness implicates Hernandez

The link surfaced during testimony from Miguel Antonio Montes Nieves on March 30 during Ayala-Vazquez’s trial in San Juan. Known as “Tony Montana” after Al Pacino’s character in “Scarface,” Montes pleaded guilty to mailing cocaine from Florida to Puerto Rico in an unrelated case. A childhood friend of Ayala-Vazquez’s in Bayamon’s Barbosa Public Housing Project, Montes landed in Orlando as part of a long career using and dealing drugs. Once, Montes testified, he met one of Ayala-Vazquez’s deputies, eager to score marijuana, at Chuck E. Cheese’s on International Drive in Orlando.

After Christmas 2005, Ayala-Vazquez and several of his lieutenants traveled to Florida. A concert at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney organized by Big League Entertainment, a promotion company run by Elias Maldonado, was on the agenda. But obtaining the two cars from Mr. Hernandez in Miami was the primary purpose.

Under questioning by assistant U.S. attorney Olga B. Castellon-Miranda, Montes detailed the deal for the Lamborghini:

Q: How much did Angelo pay for that car?

A: Well, I don’t know the exact amount, but it was a lot of money.

Q: What did he tell you regarding where did he get that car from?

A: Well, the one who told me in itself was Elias because since they go to Miami, Elias told me, “Well, they are going to stop in Miami because they are going to pick up the cars they bought from Livan, and then they are coming here to Orlando to, well, hang out with us.”

Q: And what happened with those cars after they left?

A: Well, after they left, the others, Elias and I, took the cars to the hotel parking, and a truck took them to transport them to Puerto Rico.

Q: By whose orders?

A: Angelo’s.

Hotel stay financed by ‘drugs’

The hotel was the Buena Vista Palace at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., advertised as only “footsteps away” from Downtown Disney. On Jan. 26, 2006, Mr. Hernandez checked into Room 452 and stayed three nights, according to the hotel folio obtained by The Times. His room was one of 51 paid for by Big League Entertainment with $5,720 in cash, the folio showed.

There were also rooms for the artists performing at the House of Blues concert arranged by Big League Entertainment, Montes testified, and rooms for “Angelo and the guys.” Rivera, described in the indictment as one of the organization’s three leaders, arrived, too, after driving the Porsche from Miami. Where did the money for the rooms come from?

“From drugs,” Montes testified.

Montes said he met Mr. Hernandez through Maldonado, also imprisoned in connection with the Orlando case. Montes and Maldonado played baseball together as youngsters in Bayamon.

“Well, Elias is a very good friend of [Mr. Hernandez’s] and since I would hang out with Elias, I met him on a couple of occasions,” Montes testified.

Maldonado owed more than $2 million of “drug money” out “on the street,” Montes testified. Montes said he obtained more than 400 kilos of drugs in 2006 and 2007 from Ayala-Vazquez’s organization in the Barbosa housing project they controlled.

The two cars were shipped to Puerto Rico and received license plates there, a place where Mr. Hernandez has longtime connections. Those included Mr. Hernandez’s ownership of the Vaqueras de Bayamon women’s professional volleyball team from 2006 to 2008, according to the Puerto Rico National Volleyball Federation.

The Florida registrations for the two cars show them in Mr. Hernandez’s name. The Lamborghini, a 2006 model with a 12-cylinder, 378-cubic-inch engine, was listed at $290,900. The Porsche, a 2003 model listed at $116,200, was customized by Gemballa, a German-based company.

The Lamborghini since has been repossessed by SunTrust Bank, which held the lien, according to a government source, after payments were not made for more than one year. The source said the car will be auctioned in Puerto Rico or Florida.

The Porsche has not been found, according to the second law enforcement source. The source said Mr. Hernandez has not put in claims on either car.

‘Clubhouse’ linked to Hernandez

The connections extended to a sprawling warehouse at the end of Casa Rosa in the Reparto Valencia neighborhood of Bayamon that was in Mr. Hernandez’s name, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, but it was used by Ayala-Vazquez’s organization. A “clubhouse” for the organization’s leaders is how the indictment described the building that included a gym, a car-repair shop, a barber shop and a recording studio.

Victor Javier Salgado Betancourt, an agent with the Puerto Rico Police Department who is part of a task force that works with the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the warehouse belonged to Ayala-Vazquez. The defense asserted that it belonged to Mr. Hernandez.

“It doesn’t belong to whom on paper it says that it belongs to,” Agent Betancourt testified under cross-examination April 7. “It belongs to whom it really belongs to.”

Agent Betancourt’s exchange with Nathan P. Diamond, one of Ayala-Vazquez’s defense attorneys, continued about a Honda Accord found at the warehouse:

Q: And you don’t know who the owner of the vehicle is?

A: It is my understanding that it is Ayala’s, because it was on his property.

Q: And if the property is registered to Livan Hernandez, it would not be on his property, would it?

A: Not necessarily.

Q: But it would be on Mr. Livan Hernandez’s property, maybe necessarily.

A: Not necessarily.

Among the items seized from the warehouse were tools valued at $40,405.68, a black golf cart, furniture, music and recording gear and gym equipment. Photos from a search of the warehouse by authorities on June 17, 2009, show a flat-screen television, a police radio, racing trophies and a plastic bag with keys to the silver Lamborghini.

Mr. Hernandez purchased the warehouse in 2006 or 2007, according to the second law enforcement source. The property is currently in judicial forfeiture and eventually could be auctioned, the source said.

Mr. Hernandez has declined to address the investigation, other than in a rambling interview with Omar Claro of Spanish-language Mega TV last month when the Nationals played the Florida Marlins in Miami. Mr. Hernandez referenced the investigation, albeit indirectly.

“When something bad happens, like now, there are no facts, only things that come from people talking, and now Livan is the problem,” Mr. Hernandez said in remarks translated from Spanish. “Everyone who knows me knows I’m not like that.

“It’s another thing what they say I’ve done. I’ve had 60 things that no one has talked about. It bothers me because they say things that aren’t true. They make people think bad things. … I know that the press treats me differently and it bothers me because we’ve done many good things in Puerto Rico, many good things with children.”

Mr. Hernandez’s representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Puerto Rico said Mr. Hernandez is one of several people whom authorities are investigating in connection with the case. He is the only professional baseball player connected to Ayala-Vazquez.

Ayala-Vazquez is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 9 after being convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin, marijuana and pills such as Percocet and Xanax. Last month, Judge Juan Perez Gimenez signed an order for Ayala-Vazquez and his co-defendants to forfeit more than $100 million.

Jacqueline Novas, special counsel in the U.S. attorney’s office, said last week that no follow-up meetings with Major League Baseball concerning Mr. Hernandez are scheduled.

Paulina Berkovich, Amanda Comak, John Haydon and Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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