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Puerto Rico woman faces life sentence in murder-for-hire of her Canadian husband

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A Puerto Rico woman found guilty of hiring a hit man to kill her wealthy Canadian husband more than a decade ago has been sentenced to life in prison.

Aurea Vazquez Rijos cried on Friday as a U.S. federal judge issued the sentence and ordered that she be transferred to a prison in Fort Worth, Texas. Judge Daniel Dominguez said he believed the jury’s guilty verdict over Vazquez’s statement that she is innocent.

Her defence attorneys plan to appeal in a case that sparked an international manhunt.

Vazquez had been charged with offering a man $3 million to kill real estate developer Adam Anhang. The 32-year-old was stabbed repeatedly and hit in the head with a cobblestone while walking with Vazquez through the historic part of Puerto Rico’s capital in September 2005, just 12 hours after prosecutors said Anhang had asked for a divorce.

During the sentencing, which was held at a federal courthouse near where Anhang was killed, his mother and younger sister read statements.

“It certainly helps to put it behind us, but you can’t forget your own child who dies before you do,” the victim’s father, Abraham Anhang, told The Associated Press. “If you lose a child, there’s never closure.”

As Abraham Anhang left the courtroom, Vazquez asked him, “Are you happy now?” to which he replied, “Shut up.”

Vazquez and Anhang had signed a prenup one day before getting married, with Anhang’s value estimated at more than US$24 million and Vazquez’s at nearly $62,300. Six months after Anhang’s death, Vazquez sued his parents seeking $1 million in damages and $8 million from his estate.

She then left for Florence, Italy in 2008 and was arrested in June 2013 after flying from Italy to Spain. She and her one-month-old baby were extradited to Puerto Rico two years later, leaving behind twin daughters she had with a man in Italy.

Also sentenced to life Friday was Vazquez’s sister, Marcia Vazquez Rijos and an ex-boyfriend of hers, Jose Ferrer Sosa. All three had been found guilty in October last year.

“Today’s sentence concludes a process which required a lot of effort and perseverance. Justice was finally served for the victim and his family,” U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said in a statement.

The main suspect, Alex Pabon Colon, pleaded guilty 10 years ago to killing Anhang and co-operated with prosecutors.

Among those who also testified during the trial last year was a man who sued for wrongful conviction after he was found guilty of killing Anhang and spent eight months in jail. He was released when Pabon was charged as federal authorities took over the case.

Danica Coto, The Associated Press

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RCMP plane chases fleeing helicopter as part of major cross-border drug bust

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PENTICTON, B.C. — RCMP east of Vancouver were involved in a cross-border drug bust this summer that involved nearly 300 kilograms of meth, more than 100 guns and an aerial chase between a police plane and a helicopter.

Details of the bust are in paperwork filed at the Penticton Law Courts to support multiple search warrants for a property near Chilliwack, B.C., where a helicopter at the centre of the chase is alleged to have landed with an RCMP plane on its tail.

Documents filed on behalf of the RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime Section in Osoyoos say the office was alerted in early June by U.S. Homeland Security about a planned cross-border drug deal involving nearly 200 kilograms of methamphetamine.

U.S. officials staked out a landing site in Washington state about 110 kilometres south of Princeton, B.C., where they believed the drugs would be transferred to Canadian buyers. Something spooked the pilot of the helicopter, and it fled north into Canadian airspace.

Two men who tried to leave the landing site in Washington were arrested by U.S. agents who seized 188 kilograms of methamphetamine.

In Canadian skies, an RCMP plane was patrolling near Princeton hoping to intercept the unmarked, black helicopter. Mounties spotted it in a shadowy landing site on a remote mountainside in E.C. Manning Provincial Park.

The helicopter lifted off and headed west.

The chase was on.

“The helicopter took deliberate evasive action, attempting to lose surveillance,” the documents say. “The helicopter flew at very low altitudes, near the tops of trees and up narrow draws. It repeatedly changed direction, and made rapid ascents up towards the mountains.

“The helicopter varied its speed in an attempt to outrun the RCMP aircraft, and slowed down to have the RCMP aircraft overtake it.”

The dogfight continued for 45 minutes, the documents say. On two occasions, the chopper pilot tried to lure the RCMP aircraft to a lower altitude and then rapidly ascended, in a vain effort to shake the pursuers.

The helicopter eventually landed at a rural property near Chilliwack.

The court documents say searches of that property turned up 72 long guns, 35 handguns, ammunition, cellphone jammers, U.S. government helicopter decals, drones and currency from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

RCMP have not said if anyone has been charged and referred a request for comment to Homeland Security.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Tanya Roman said the investigation turned up an additional 84 kilograms of drugs, bringing the total amount of drugs seized to 272 kilograms.

“This sizable amount is indicative of the possible involvement of a large and sophisticated smuggling organization,” she said in a statement.

“Due to the ongoing investigation and law enforcement sensitivities, we are unable to provide further comment at this time.”

Authorities believe the pilot was one of two men arrested at the Chilliwack-area property.

The Canadian Civil Aircraft Registry shows the helicopter’s registration was cancelled last May. (Penticton Herald)

Joe Fries, Penticton Herald, The Canadian Press

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Third-party buys billboard to promote Bernier’s anti-mass immigration stance

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maxine bernier billboard

OTTAWA — Billboards with Maxime Bernier’s face and a slogan advocating against mass immigration cropped up Friday in several major Canadian cities.

The ads, which were seen in Halifax, Regina and Vancouver, prompt people to vote for the People’s Party of Canada and read “Say NO to Mass Immigration.”

A third-party advertising group, True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp., paid for the billboards.

According to a filing with Elections Canada, the third-party group is run by Frank Smeenk, the chief executive of a Toronto-based mining exploration company.

The group filed interim financial returns with Elections Canada that show it spent $59,890 on billboards in “select cities in Canada” and received $60,000 from Bassett & Walker International Inc., a company that specializes in the international trade of protein products.

Earlier this week, Smeenk declined to comment on the billboard beyond what appeared in the Elections Canada filing. The Canadian Press attempted to reach Smeenk again on Friday, but he did not respond.

Similarly, messages left at Bassett & Walker were not returned.

The People’s Party of Canada also did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, but it said in a statement to other media it is not associated with the group that has put up the billboards and that they had not been in contact with the third party.

Bernier has advocated lower immigration to somewhere between 100,000 to 150,000 people per year, much lower than the current target of 330,800 for 2019 set by the federal government. He’s also said he would impose a values test on people trying to immigrate to Canada.

Local politicians in Halifax weighed in as images of the billboards spread Friday.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said on Twitter, “I welcome everyone to Nova Scotia — but I don’t welcome this negative, divisive tone.”

Local Liberal MP Andy Fillmore was more direct: “How about no to Maxime Bernier, instead,” he wrote. “There’s no place in Nova scotia for the PPC’s politics of fear (and) division.”

The purchase by the True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp. is the latest is a series of ad buys from third-party groups.

Before the start of the pre-election period June 30, several groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV advertising, notably during the NBA Finals.

Earlier in the summer, other billboards targeting Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale popped up in his Regina riding, also the product of a third-party group, the Canada Growth Council.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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