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3 in Teamsters Union Charged in Hotel Fire

February 04, 1988|United Press International

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Authorities arrested a local Teamsters official and two union members Wednesday and charged them with 97 counts of first-degree murder for the 1986 Dupont Plaza Hotel fire.

The Commonwealth Department of Justice said Manuel de Jesus Santiago Rios, vice president of Teamsters Local 901 in 1986, and union members Luis Muniz Marquez and Luis Vega Rios were arrested by agents of the Special Investigations Bureau.

Santiago Rios, now a union trustee, and Muniz Marquez, a kitchen worker and union delegate, were charged in District Court with 97 counts each of first-degree murder, plus other charges of arson, sowing destruction, conspiracy and perjury. Vega Rios, a hotel butcher, faced all but the perjury charge.

Documents Allege Role

The arrests came one day after documents charging that Santiago Rios and Muniz Marquez ordered the blaze at the Dupont Plaza were filed in a civil lawsuit brought by two insurance companies.

The Dupont Plaza fire, which killed 97 people and injured about 140 others, was set on Dec. 31, 1986. It started after union hotel workers had voted to reject a management proposal for a new contract.

Jose Cadiz, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 901, said the arrests were "the culmination of a vicious conspiracy whose only purpose would be to link our Local 901 and the Teamsters International with the Dupont Plaza fire."

Hector Escudero Aponte, a hotel maintenance worker, pleaded guilty Wednesday in San Juan's Superior Court to reduced charges of 97 counts of second-degree murder and one count each of arson and conspiracy. He was sentenced to concurrent terms totaling 30 years.

Dist. Atty. Ismael Betancourt said he sought reduced charges because Escudero Aponte cooperated in the cases against the three arrested Wednesday.

Two other hotel employees also have been sentenced to prison terms for their roles in the blaze.

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