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Fugitive on 'most wanted' list returns to U.S. for prosecution

March 28, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • FBI agents escort Edwin Ernesto Rivera Gracias off a plane in Denver.
FBI agents escort Edwin Ernesto Rivera Gracias off a plane in Denver. (FBI )

A fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list is back in the U.S. facing first-degree murder charges after Salvadoran journalists intrigued by his notoriety tracked him down.

His hide-out? The family home, about 200 yards from a police station, the reporters said.

Edwin Ernesto Rivera Gracias, a reputed member of MS-13 and a citizen of El Salvador with ties to Los Angeles, voluntarily returned to Colorado from El Salvador to face charges in the death of Richard Epolito Limon, 69, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement Wednesday.

The slaying was said to be vengeance for the rape of Rivera Gracias’  girlfriend. An FBI affidavit (uploaded below) details a sordid story.

According to court documents, Limon lived in an RV outside the Jefferson County, Colo., home of acquaintances who wanted him dead.

Rivera Gracias, thought to be between 28 and 33 years old, was living as part of the group with his teenage girlfriend, Nena Moya, now 19, whose name he tattooed on his hand. Rivera Gracias allegedly had said he wanted to kill Limon, and his girlfriend's mother, Tina Moya, supposedly had challenged his manhood if he didn't go through with it.

"Allegations had surfaced that [Limon] had raped Tina on two occasions, and had molested Nena during her youth," the FBI affidavit said.

On Aug. 16, 2011, Rivera Gracias allegedly subdued Limon in his RV with the help of Raul Nunez-Soto, Tina Moya's boyfriend. Nunez-Soto watched as Rivera Gracias beat and stabbed Limon to death, according to the affidavit.

The pair put the body beneath some cardboard boxes in the back of a truck, and "Tina approached the truck and touched [Limon's] body to ensure that he was dead," the affidavit said. "Tina and Nena appeared to be happy about [Limon]'s death."

The two men threw Limon's body down Lookout Mountain, the affidavit said, and returned the next day with Tina and Nena Moya to move the body farther from the road. A mountain biker discovered it a few hours later.

Limon's head had been duct-taped to cover his mouth, and he was bloodied and discolored, with his boxers around his knees, according to an FBI affidavit. He'd been stabbed nine times with a steak knife.

When interviewed by police, Nena Moya said that Limon had raped her when she was a young girl, but that she had warned the others not to kill him. She denied she was happy to see him dead.

According to ABC-7 in Denver, Tina Moya was sentenced to 36 years in prison on March 20 after pleading guilty to involvement in the murder; Nunez-Soto pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 48 years in prison on Oct. 30; Nena Moya pleaded guilty to accessory to first-degree murder and was sentenced to two years in the state's Division of Youth Corrections.

But Rivera Gracias was not to be found. About a week after the slaying, officials had tracked his cellphone to Los Angeles, where authorities thought he had gang ties. He had "LA" tattooed on his right forearm and an "MS-13" tattoo on his back, officials said.

On March 14, when Rivera Gracias had been a fugitive for a year and a half, officials put him on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, offering a $100,000 reward. They highlighted Rivera Gracias' membership in the transnational La Mara Salvatrucha gang as much as the slaying itself.

"MS-13 is one of the most violent gangs in the United States, and Rivera Gracias appears to have embraced that lifestyle," FBI Special Agent Phil Niedringhaus, who leads the FBI’s violent crimes squad in Denver, said in the March 14 announcement.

He added, "The FBI has put significant resources into fighting MS-13, and our gang task force works closely with our international partners to gather intelligence to help dismantle this transnational group."

The next day, reporters from the Salvadoran news outlet El Diario de Hoy said they showed Rivera Gracias' photo around and tracked him to Sonsonate, El Salvador, where he was living with his family - about 200 yards from a police post.

El Diario de Hoy reported that Rivera Gracias was working at a local hotel and wouldn't go outside during the day. Local police told the reporters they didn't see him involved with gangs or other crimes.

The newspaper noted that the storied FBI list has included criminal masterminds such as Osama bin Laden and Mexican drug lords.

Salvadoran Internet commenters joked that maybe El Diario de Hoy reporters should start doing the work of the police.

SEE: Edwin Ernesto Rivera Gracias affidavit

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