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  HOME | Caribbean

Crime Wave in Puerto Rico Takes Life of Banking Executive

SAN JUAN – The latest victim of Puerto Rico’s wave of crime is a senior executive of Doral Financial Corporation, gunned down in downtown San Juan as he was driving in his car.

The 56-year-old Maurice J. Spagnoletti, Doral’s executive vice president of Mortgage and Banking Operations, on Wednesday night became the 515th crime fatality so far in 2011, a figure exceeding by about 90 the number of murders committed on the island by this time last year.

Spagnoletti had been living in Puerto Rico for six months.

Police Commander Orlando Melendez reported that although the executive had recently headed the bank’s restructuring authorities still do not know whether the murder is linked to an audit he launched of the financial institution.

Melendez insisted that the audit, which according to the San Juan press uncovered irregularities, cannot be pointed to as the factor that led to the death of Spagnoletti, whose killing appeared to be a professional hit.

The police commander said that the victim was shot three times in the head as he was attempting to flee in his vehicle from pursuers on the De Diego Expressway in downtown San Juan.

“Up to now, preliminarily, that is what we understand,” he said, adding that this was a murder perpetrated by one or more experienced gunmen.

Melendez said that the island’s police commissioner, Jose Figueroa Sancha, immediately activated an elite homicide squad to investigate the case.

The press reported that Spagnoletti had collaborated in an investigation with federal authorities but gave no further details.

Doral Bank, which with 40 branches sprinkled around the island and about 500,000 account holders and is one of Puerto Rico’s main banks, limited itself to releasing a curt communique in which it lamented the banker’s death.

“This is a tragedy and a very sad day for Doral Bank,” spokeswoman Lucienne Gigante said. “We lost a dear friend and top executive of our company. But, most important, he was a family man.”

Spagnoletti leaves behind a 5-year-old daughter.

Regarding speculation related to any improper conduct by the board of directors, the communique emphasizes that “it is completely misguided,” adding that Spagnoletti was an exemplary executive with high integrity who was much respected and admired.

Gigante dismissed speculation about misconduct at the bank as “totally false.”

“Maurice was an exemplary executive of the highest caliber and integrity. In the six months he was here he earned our respect and admiration,” she said.

Spagnoletti, due to his professional profile, is quite different from most of the dozens of people murdered each week on the streets of Puerto Rico, yet the modus operandi of the killers was very similar to that employed by local drug gangs.

Puerto Rican authorities attribute the spate of murders to a battle over control of drug corners in San Juan.

Police in December 2009 launched an operation to break up the drug sales networks, a campaign that has resulted in the elimination of 300 street corner drug sales sites and more than 1,000 arrests, according to the most recent data. EFE

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