Like an exceptionally good godmother, Edelmira Arroyo Anderson religiously wired money to her godson in Mexico City. She sent an average of $150 per week for 15 months to the young man, who was selling cars in the Mexican capital.
Anderson was generous to a fault. In fact, her giving went beyond charity. It was a crime.
Prosecutors say her weekly stipend was going to support a vicious killer, a former Chino Hills resident who was on the run as a suspect in the 1999 murder of a teenage flamenco dancer in Pasadena.
Two weeks ago, Anderson pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime, admitting her money had helped harbor the fugitive, Johnny Andres Ortiz, 29.
After an intensive manhunt, Ortiz was extradited from Mexico last year and now faces murder charges for the slaying of Maria Isabel Fernandez, a Pasadena City College student. Prosecutors allege that Ortiz stabbed the 17-year-old dancer 46 times in a jealous rage. He pleaded not guilty, and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing March 15 in the Pasadena branch of L.A. County Superior Court.
That same day, his godmother faces sentencing for her own act of "misguided love," as Deputy Dist. Atty. Marian Thompson puts it.
It happens all the time, police say. Someone commits a crime and turns to relatives and friends for help. Rather than betray the suspect, they help him run or hide.
This twisted sense of family loyalty is deeply rooted in the Latino community, said Jose Vargas, retired Hispanic affairs officer for Santa Ana, an immigrant city. In Mexico, he said, people have little faith in law enforcement, which can be slow and corrupt.
"Instead of helping the justice system, they prefer to help their relatives," said Vargas. "Blood is thicker than water."
And the crime of harboring a criminal is hard to prove, said Det. Arturo Zorrilla, head of the LAPD's foreign prosecutions unit. The tricky part is establishing that the person who offered aid was aware a crime had been committed.
In the Ortiz case, the weekly money transfers betrayed the godmother's guilt. Anderson, who could not be reached for comment, used an assumed name to make the payments to her fugitive godson, who was also using an alias.
She started sending the money shortly after the killing on Feb. 5, 1999. During his flight to the border, Ortiz twice called his parents from pay phones, saying he had beaten his girlfriend because he caught her with another man. Two hours after the killing, the suspect's father alerted Pasadena police.
Two days later, Ortiz called home again, this time from Hermosillo. He told his mother "he was outside and safe and she shouldn't worry about him."
In Mexico, Ortiz wooed another young woman to become his fiancee. But inside his car, abandoned at the border on the U.S. side, authorities said there was damning evidence left behind--his bloodstained leather jacket. DNA tests later showed the blood belonged to Maria Isabel.
In the past, Mexico has made extradition difficult. Mexican citizens could invoke their constitutional right to be tried on home ground for crimes committed in other countries. Earlier this year, however, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that its citizens could be extradited for trial elsewhere, provided they are sentenced under Mexican guidelines, which ban the death penalty.
Mexico had no special claim on Ortiz, a Colombian native. He was located in Mexico after the victim's father, Miguel Fernandez, made an appeal to the public for help on a popular Spanish-language talk show. That led to a tip from the sister of the suspect's new girlfriend, said Fernandez, who is now fighting to make sure his daughter's alleged killer gets sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
Fernandez was in court last month when Anderson entered her guilty plea and promised to pay $35,000 in restitution to a scholarship fund set up in Maria Isabel's name. A judge accepted the terms, including three years' felony probation, with the admonition that her conviction could get her deported or denied citizenship. Neither Anderson nor her attorney could be reached to discuss her immigration status.
The best way to find a fugitive is through relatives and friends, says LAPD's Zorrilla, whose foreign prosecutions unit has filed charges in 259 cases since 1985, mostly for murder, and mostly in Mexico. People can either help police, or they can cover for criminals and find themselves in prison for up to three years.
"Keep that in mind," Zorrilla tells others who may be tempted to turn family and country into havens for crime.
Agustin Gurza's column appears Tuesdays. Readers can reach Gurza at (714) 966-7712 or email@example.com