Every week, estranged spouses ask Maricopa County court commissioner Pete Reinstein to make "emergency" rulings for them in child-custody quarrels.
Says Reinstein, "They come rushing in before the custody orders are completed, and they'll say something like, 'Hubby or wife is out doing drugs, and he or she shouldn't be allowed to see the child.' But the pleadings have to be dripping blood before I'll usually grant something ex parte [without the opposing side present]."
Reinstein didn't mean "dripping blood" literally. But FBI agents allege that a recent ex parte visitor to Reinstein's courtroom had precisely such murderous intentions.
Phoenix police on September 24 arrested 25-year-old Adrian Aguilar on charges of hiring a Southern California man to murder his estranged wife, Susan.
The case's chilling twists led Susan Aguilar's veteran divorce attorney, Joe Moschetti, to say, "I've never seen one quite like this before. I'm just glad no one got hurt."
According to Maricopa County court records, Susan Aguilar filed for divorce from her husband May 13. The couple's daughter will be 2 years old next month.
In late July, Adrian Aguilar, through his attorney, Michael Kelly, asked Reinstein to grant him sole custody of the child. He alleged "that the petitioner [Susan Aguilar] engages in questionable moral and social activities . . ." By then, Susan and the baby had moved to her father's home in El Paso, Texas.
On September 22, Kelly asked Reinstein to grant Adrian Aguilar immediate custody of the baby. He alleged that Susan Aguilar had been missing from her parents' home for four days, which bolstered his point that she's an unfit mother. (The child was in safe hands with her grandparents.)
"I said, 'Let's wait a few days and see what happens,'" Reinstein recalls. "Mr. Kelly obviously knew nothing about what really was going on, and neither did Mr. Moschetti."
What really was going on, FBI agents have written in federal court papers, is that Susan Aguilar was in protective custody pending her estranged husband's arrest in the alleged murder-for-hire plot.
FBI agent Louis Barragan spelled out the government's case against Adrian Aguilar in a late September affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.
Barragan's summary of the events:
On September 17, the El Paso police advised the FBI that an alleged contract killer turned informant and Susan Aguilar were at the police station. The would-be hit man, who has not been identified, was saying that a middleman had contacted him about a potential murder-for-hire job a week earlier.
The informant said he'd taken a Greyhound bus from his hometown of Whittier, California, to Phoenix, where Adrian Aguilar--whom he hadn't known previously--picked him up.
Aguilar told the informant he wanted his wife killed so he could gain custody of their daughter. He first offered his hit man $1,000 and an ounce of methamphetamines. They later settled on $2,000 for the "hit."
The informant said he accepted a $500 down payment on the spot, but not the drugs. Aguilar also provided him with a car and two guns. The following day, Aguilar showed the snitch a photograph of his wife, told him where she was working in El Paso, and gave him other information.
Instead of traveling from Phoenix to El Paso, however, the informant drove Aguilar's car to his home in Southern California. There, he picked up his wife and young daughter, and drove to Texas, he says, "to warn [Susan Aguilar]," after his wife had convinced him to do so.
The informant went to Susan Aguilar's workplace, where he told her he'd been hired by her husband to murder her. He then called Adrian Aguilar in Phoenix and put Susan on the phone, telling her to say a quick hello to a friend of his.
(Later, he told Aguilar he had lured Susan Aguilar into a "date" as a pretext for access, so he could complete the job. Aguilar, the informant told agents, praised him as a genius.)
Susan Aguilar called her father, a deputy with the El Paso Sheriff's Department. He came to Susan's workplace, and heard the same story from the repentent would-be hit man.
That day, September 17, the FBI monitored a call from the now informant to Adrian Aguilar.
"It's done," he told Aguilar.
"If it's done, it's done," Aguilar responded, adding there was more money waiting at Western Union.
The informant provided details, saying he'd killed Susan Aguilar in the desert after telling her, "'This is for Adrian.' Then, bam, that's all she wrote."
"Okay, when can I see you?" Adrian Aguilar replied in the secretly recorded conversation.
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A few days after Adrian Aguilar assumed the "hit" had happened, he asked his unsuspecting attorney to fight for custody in Reinstein's court--on the basis that Susan was missing.
Instead, on September 24, police arrested Aguilar at a Phoenix jewelry store which he co-owns. He was charged with attempted murder.
That day, Commissioner Reinstein issued an order awarding Susan Aguilar sole custody of the baby because of Adrian's arrest on the murder charge--"Petitioner mother being intended victim," Reinstein noted.
A U.S. magistrate on October 1 bound Adrian Aguilar over for trial. He's being held without bond in a federal prison.