Mexican Media Millionaire and Son to be Released From Jail; Will Forfeit Seized Assets if They Flee

You're Mexican. You're been arrested and accused by Arizona authorities of being part of a crime ring that spawned a 102-felony-count indictment. You've got access to a fortune in Mexico. Pretty slim chances that you'll be freed from the Maricopa County Jail, right?

Not if you're Mario de la Fuente Manriquez or his son, Mario de la Fuente Manriquez Mix, who are pillars of their community in Nogales, Mexico, and is related to former Mexican president. Manriquez owns a newspaper and cable TV company. Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe today  ordered both men to be released on their own recognizance. Of course, there's a catch.

Police have seized and estimated $8 million to $12 million in assets from the pair -- money that's supposedly tied to the alleged crime ring's illicit deals. As we reported last month, cops accuse the pair and other suspects of bringing millions of dollars into the country from Mexico -- money that police believe was earned legitimately -- and using it to open and run nightclubs and high-end car dealerships.

As dozens of friend and supporters waited in the courtroom, lawyers struck a backroom bargain with Donahoe, convincing the veteran judge that their clients would show up to future court hearings. The deal: If either man fails to show up to a court hearing in the case without a legitimate excuse, Arizona can keep the money. Both are to surrender their Mexican passports and live in their Tucson homes.

They've been held since their arrests on $5 million bonds. But clearly, these aren't your usual suspects, and authorities haven't made a strong case against the pair -- publicly, anyway.

After Donahoe announced he would release the men, Manriquez and Mix -- both dressed in jail stripes -- appeared greatly relieved and smiled as they spoke to their attorneys, Michael Piccareta of Tucson, Luis Parra of Tucson and Saji Vettiyil of Nogales. 

Attorneys expected Manriquez to be freed within hours, while Mix's release might take a few days. Vettiyil says ICE has put a hold on Mix, but he anticipated it would take less than a week to work out.

Detective John Kornegay, who sat next to the prosecutor during the hearing, declined to comment to New Times after Donahoe's order.

Yet if this were a game of cards, we'd feel like the authorities just showed some of their hand. If the Phoenix police department and the Arizona Attorney General's Office, the prosecutor in the case, feel strongly that they'll end up keeping the seized assets, why wager them against the chance either Mix or Manriquez will bolt?

The lawyers say their clients are victims in the case. Piccarreta says Manriquez did loan money to one of the other suspects, Syrian national Nazreth Derboghossian. However, neither Mix nor Manriquez knew that Derboghossian was going to do anything illegal with the money, the lawyers say.

At a January 25 news conference, police alleged that Derboghossian hid his ownership of Scorch Bar, CBNC, Exotic Auto Sales and other businesses, while Jodi Upton, Katie Peters and Doug Allen acted as "straw" owners. Derboghossian allegedly helped defraud a bank for $750,000.

Three of the other suspects arrested in the case remain in jail: Derboghossian, Ara Derboghossian and Upton. Peters has been released on bond.

Police haven't yet released the report in the case.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern