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Ministry director charged in the 1981 slaying of a Cabazon tribal leader

James Hughes, whose group provides counseling to battered women in Honduras, is accused of killing Fred Alvarez and two others to stop them from exposing crime on a Riverside County reservation.

October 02, 2009|Robert J. Lopez

A Miami-based ministry director was charged Thursday with killing a Cabazon Indian Reservation tribal leader and two other people in 1981 in an effort to stop them from exposing allegedly illegal activities on the reservation, according to court records.

James "Jimmy" Hughes, 52, who has also lived in Honduras and runs a ministry that provides counseling to battered women and drug addicts there, was arrested Saturday at Miami International Airport while attempting to return to the Central American country, authorities said.

Hughes, a former Army Ranger who was security director for the casino and its bingo operations, was arrested after a probe launched in February by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and the California attorney general's office.

Hughes is accused of conspiring with three others to kill Fred Alvarez and two others before they could expose illegal activities on the reservation in rural Riverside County, according to a felony complaint for extradition filed Thursday in Riverside County Superior Court.

According to court records, he allegedly shot the three victims in June 1981.

The slayings have been dubbed the Octopus Murders by detectives because of the complexity of the crimes and the many theories that have circulated over the years regarding who committed them.

The Times reported in 1991 that the reservation's casino room was run by a reputed organized crime figure and that Alvarez, a tribe vice president, began complaining that money was being "skimmed." Shortly afterward, he and the two others were killed.

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general's office because Hughes is a distant cousin of Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco.

"Because of the potential conflict of interest, we are handling the case," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Hughes is fighting extradition, so state prosecutors are seeking a so-called governor's warrant in which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would request that the Florida governor issue a warrant to send Harris to California.

Westrup said the extradition process is expected to be completed in the next month.

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

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