Monday, January 25, 2010

Prominent Business Family Arrested

Media mogul accused of laundering cash in Valley.


The owner of a Sonora media empire and his son are among eight suspects indicted in a Valley money-laundering and fraud case that investigators say involves millions of dollars funneled from unidentified sources in Mexico.

The defendants, Mario de la Fuente Manríquez and his son, Mario de la Fuente Mix, belong to one of the Arizona border's most prominent families in business, politics and social circles.

The case also involves a tangle of Valley nightclubs and exotic-auto dealerships, as well as mystery financiers south of the border. In a 102-count grand-jury indictment, the elder de la Fuente is accused of 19 acts of fraud, money laundering, participating in a criminal syndicate and conspiracy. His son faces 10 counts.

The de la Fuente family operates a newspaper, TV station and more than a dozen cable-television companies in northern Mexico.


It once operated a bullfighting ring in Nogales, Sonora, where a brother of de la Fuente Manríquez served as mayor from 2003 to 2006.

Representatives or attorneys could not be reached for comment.

A family-owned Mexican newspaper, Diario de Sonora, printed an editorial Friday lamenting the arrests and noting the family's prominence in business affairs on both sides of the border.

According to a probable-cause statement filed by police in Maricopa County Superior Court, the de la Fuentes and their co-defendants set up multiple businesses with more than $16 million in unexplained cash from unnamed sources in Mexico.

The legal papers also say defendants committed a series of fraudulent schemes, failed to pay off $750,000 in loans and filed false papers with state agencies.

Olivia Ainza-Kramer, president of the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, said the two de la Fuentes hold dual citizenship and are well known on both sides of the border.

"I guess the whole community, we are in shock," she said. "Very respectable family."

The case was investigated by Phoenix police and is being prosecuted by the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Representatives from those agencies refused to discuss the indictment until a planned news conference on Monday.

According to court papers, defendants conducted business from 2000 until the end of 2008 through front enterprises that included Coyote Bay Night Club (CBNC), Scorch Bar and RPM Ultra Club & Lounge, all popular Valley bars, at least at one time.

Scorch closed in 2008; the status of the others was unclear.

The defendants are accused of fraud and perjury by filing false corporate records and liquor-license applications to conceal ownership and financing.

Other businesses, including Exotic Auto Sales and Motor Cars of Scottsdale, were used to defraud buyers of expensive cars through the filing of phony title papers, court papers allege.

According to a civil suit in Superior Court, defendants sold a single Mercedes-Benz to three different parties.

The indictment charges Nazreth Derboghossian, 50, with 102 felonies.

It says he operated a business known as NAZ Enterprises, which controlled the bars and auto dealerships.

The indictment says de la Fuente Manríquez and Derboghossian participated in the criminal syndicate by providing advice and financing.

Their bond was set initially at $5 million each.

De la Fuente Mix, 43, also was arrested Wednesday and booked into county jail on charges that include assisting a criminal syndicate.

Other defendants, who face charges of conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and participating in a criminal syndicate, are: Jodi Lynn Upton, co-owner of CNBC bar, who faces 59 felony charges; Katie Peters, operator of Scorch Bar, 18 counts; Douglas Gordon Allen, a principal in auto dealerships and a bar, 30 counts; and Ara Derboghossian, five counts.

A defendant whose name was redacted from the indictment faces 11 criminal charges.

De la Fuente family members own an Arizona company, Nogales Holdings Inc., and at one time held a minority interest in the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Members have made substantial political contributions to U.S. presidential and congressional candidates.

In 1999, a family patriarch, also named Mario de la Fuente, built a $4.5 million domed bullring in Nogales, Sonora.

The blood sport, designed to attract U.S. tourists, drew criticism from animal-rights activists that prompted the elder de la Fuente to respond that bulls would not be wasted: "They will make good hamburgers the next day."

Nightclubs involved in the case also attracted public attention.

CNBC opened in 2003 with shows by hip-hop artists such as Eminem and 50 Cent.

It was popular among Arizona professional athletes and described in news articles as the city's "most talked-about spot."

Upton and Derboghossian, co-owners, said at the time they learned to succeed as entrepreneurs in their first business venture, Exotic Auto Sales.

Scorch Bar, run by Katie Peters, was closed in 2008 after Phoenix inspectors uncovered fire-code violations, illegal modifications and a drug-trafficking conviction on file for a man police identified as a hidden owner.

Court records contain a number of civil lawsuits alleging that defendants failed to pay rents, legal fees and other debts.

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