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Oct. 16, 2009

WOMAN INVOLVED WITH INMATE HUSBAND IN KIDNAPING CONSPIRACY AND MURDER-FOR-HIRE PLOT TO KILL A FEDERAL JUDGE SENTENCED

Husband who sought to murder the federal judge who sentenced him to life imprisonment to be sentenced Friday, Oct. 23

(HOUSTON) – Aracely Lopez-Gonzalez, 53, of Roma, Texas, has been sentenced to federal prison for her role in a plot to kidnap a Roma woman and the murder-for-hire of U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.   

Lopez-Gonzalez and her husband, Joel Lopez, 51, were indicted in April 2008 and proceeded to trial separately before U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon in Houston. Lopez-Gonzalez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping after one day of testimony and agreed to and did testify for the government against her husband at his trial. After a one-week jury trial and two hours of deliberations, a jury found Lopez guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder-for-hire. Today, Judge Harmon sentenced Lopez-Gonzalez to 108 months in federal prison without parole to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. The sentence reflects the court’s consideration of her cooperation with the United States. She has been in custody since her March 2008 arrest and will remain in custody to serve her sentence. Lopez, who is currently serving a federal life sentence for a February 2006 drug conviction, is scheduled to be sentenced next Friday, Oct. 23 and faces a life sentence. 

The primary evidence against the defendants was the testimony of an FBI agent, a cooperating inmate and the tape recordings of his conversations with the defendants as well as testimony regarding the analysis of the coded conversations and careful explanation of the undercover investigation.

During the trials, evidence proved that in June 2007 Lopez approached a fellow inmate at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in Houston affiliated with the Almighty Latin King Nation - a violent street gang whom Lopez knew would be released soon. The inmate was in prison on escape charges. Lopez asked this inmate to murder Judge Hinojosa in McAllen for $2 million and a woman who lived in Roma for $1 million upon the inmate’s release from prison. According to testimony, Lopez believed the murder of Judge Hinojosa, who had imposed the life sentence for his drug convictions, would assist his pending appeal of that sentence. The Roma woman allegedly owed Lopez a drug debt of approximately $100,000. Lopez instructed the inmate to contact his wife and provided him with the contact information. In August 2008, Lopez was transferred to a federal prison in Pollock, La.. after which the inmate received word through the toilet system piping from another floor back at the FDC that he was supposed to contact Lopez’s wife.

After this notification, the inmate contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) and the FBI. Together, the USAO and FBI worked proactively to foil the murder plot and prosecute Lopez and his co-conspirators. The FBI began an extensive eight-month investigation which involved the cooperating inmate placing numerous recorded telephone calls to Lopez-Gonzalez from September 2007 to March 2008 and securing hundreds of hours of recorded conversations between Lopez at the jail in Louisiana and his wife in Roma that were painstakingly analyzed by the USAO and the FBI.

After the first call in September 2007, the cooperating inmate was removed from the FDC in Houston and placed in a local jail facility in South Texas leaving Lopez and his wife under the impression he had been released from custody. Under the supervision of FBI agents, the inmate met with Lopez-Gonzalez on numerous occasions during which the two discussed the logistics of the murder plot. Meanwhile, in September and December 2007, Lopez discussed the inmate with his wife in coded language during several recorded telephone calls.  

On Sept. 11, 2007, at the FBI’s direction, the inmate sent a coded letter to Lopez that discussed the murder of the judge and the woman from Roma. After Lopez told Lopez-Gonzalez about the inmate, in December 2007, the inmate and Gonzalez met on two occasions to discuss the kidnapping and the murder-for-hire plot—both under the supervision of the FBI. The inmate met Lopez-Gonzalez at her residence in Roma, in order for Lopez to contact the inmate on her home phone without having to add the inmate to Lopez’s calling list at Pollock prison – which Lopez believed would draw scrutiny from prison officials and potentially expose the plot. At this point, the investigation focused on determining whether or not any other individuals had been hired to kill Judge Hinojosa, the woman from Roma or any other targets. During these meetings, the FBI was able to confirm Lopez had not solicited anyone else to kill the federal judge or the Roma woman. In addition, the inmate and Lopez’s wife discussed the logistics of the kidnapping as well as the ransom price of more than $100,000.

After meetings on Dec. 15-16, Lopez-Gonzalez traveled to Pollock to discuss the plot with Lopez. The FBI was carefully following Lopez’s visits to the prison and Lopez-Gonzalez’s movements. During this December prison visit, Lopez gave the go ahead for the kidnapping of the Roma woman and advised his wife to admonish the inmate for sending the coded letter, which Lopez believed would draw scrutiny to the plan. At another face-to-face meeting in January 2008 between Lopez-Gonzalez and the inmate, which was recorded, she told the inmate Lopez wanted the woman from Roma picked up and held for ransom. It was unclear from these conversations whether she was to be killed or released after the kidnapping.
                                                                                    
In March 2008, FBI agents staged a daring mid-day kidnapping of the woman by picking her up from her residence in a suburban with darkened windows, placing extortionate calls to the family members (one of which knew of the fake kidnapping) from an FBI cell phone and releasing her after the family paid what they believed was $100,000 in ransom money during a carefully calculated drop. A few days after the fake kidnapping, the inmate contacted Lopez-Gonzalez and paid her $50,000 which was represented to be Lopez’s cut of the ransom money. This conversation was also recorded by the FBI. Lopez-Gonzalez was arrested after she accepted the money. During the investigation, the inmate never left the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and no harm came to either the Roma woman nor Judge Hinojosa.

The case was tried and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jay Hileman and Ryan D. McConnell.

 

 

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