State Intends to Keep Mexican Media Mogul's Money, Despite Dropping Case Against Him

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You're free to go -- but we'll keep your money.

That's the position of Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard on the failed case of Mario de la Fuente Manriquez, a Mexican media millionaire accused of organized crime.

Manriquez was arrested and charged earlier this year with 19 counts of money laundering, assisting a criminal syndicate, conspiracy and fraud. Seven other suspects, including Manriquez's son, were arrested in the alleged scheme to fraudulently own and operate several Valley nightclubs and exotic car dealerships.

Charges against Manriquez's son, Mario de la Fuente Mix, were dropped in August. And on Monday, as we reported, the state moved to drop the case against Manriquez.

But the state still wants to keep $12 million of Manriquez's money that was seized in the case, a spokesman for the AG's office tells New Times today.

Manriquez and his son were released from jail within days of their arrest, with the promise that the state could keep Manriquez's money if they fled the state.

Manriquez, who's in his 60s, started work as a child for his father's budding cable company and turned it into a lucrative media empire that included the ownership of a TV station and newspaper. Court records state that the multi-millionaire was one of the original investors in the Arizona Diamondbacks and maintains an "investment interest" in the team.

In the 2000s, he teamed up with a convicted car thief from Florida, Syrian immigrant Nazreth Derboghossian, who allegedly borrowed millions from Manriquez to start up several businesses. As our above-linked articles detail, the prominent businesses included the Scorch Bar in Phoenix, the CBNC nightclub in Scottsdale, (both now closed), and two Scottsdale car dealerships: Exotic Auto Sales and Leasing, and Scottsdale Lotus.

The businesses were operated fraudulently, with the true ownerships concealed, authorities allege.

Prosecutors acknowledged the money funneled to the United States from Mexico was earned legitimately by Manriquez. In the end, they couldn't prove he knew what was happening with his dough.

Under state law, the name of a major financial backer of a business must show up on the application for the business license. But -- as Manriquez's Tucson lawyer, Michael Piccarreta, argued -- if someone else fills out the application and omits the name, the lender can't be held responsible for the omission.

Problem is, as Piccarreta found out, the grand jury that indicted Manriquez wasn't informed of that fact. Last month, Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie ordered Manriquez's case remanded back to the grand jury, causing the state to drop its case.

Yet the separate civil case against Manriquez's seized money, (Piccarreta says the total is "somewhere north of $12 million), will continue, says Steve Wilson, spokesman for Attorney General Goddard.

"There's no change in our intention to hang on to those assets," Wilson says.

Asked if that seemed fair, he adds that "more investigation is going to be going on" and Manriquez might not yet be off the hook.

Piccarreta can "crow all he wants" about his client being innocent, but a possible, new criminal charge might be coming by early 2011, Wilson says.

"It's bullshit," Piccarreta spews after we called him for further comment. "Their case completely fell apart. They can do the right thing the easy way or the hard way. And if they do it the hard way, people are going to subject themselves to personal liability."

No new evidence will surface that will result in a new criminal charge for Manriquez, he predicts.

"I know this case inside and out. A bad case doesn't get better with time -- it's not a bottle of wine," Piccarreta quips.

Whatever happens to Manriquez, the state is moving forward with its criminal case against the other defendants, including Derboghossian, his brother Ara Derboghossian, Jodi Upton and Katie Marie Peters. Defendant Douglas Allen pleaded guilty in October to two counts related to the case, both low-level felonies: Facilitation to Illegally Conducting an Enterprise and Solicitation to Commit Perjury. He's scheduled to be sentenced on December 15.

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