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This article was published 21/9/2018 (1048 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Looking for a safe refuge from American justice, the widow of murdered Winnipeg native Adam Anhang used forged documents to claim she was Jewish, and then asked an Israeli lawyer: "How can I be protected? Is Israel American soil?"
A jury in San Juan heard the account of international deception Friday in the trial of Aurea Vazquez-Rijos, accused with her sister and a boyfriend of conspiring to have Anhang killed in 2005 in a bid to get their hands on millions of dollars from his estate.
The forgery scheme, which included the widow’s mother and brother, was revealed through the introduction of dozens of emails and documents by the prosecution, which closed its case Friday.
Vazquez-Rijos was not Jewish; however, in her pre-nuptial agreement with Anhang in 2005, she promised to convert to Judaism within two years of their wedding. Anhang was killed six months later in an assault on a San Juan street, with his wife by his side. The killer later told police he’d been promised $3 million by the three accused to kill Anhang.
But before the killer confessed, Vazquez-Rijos fled to Italy, where she later gave birth to twin daughters.
Prosecutors showed Friday that with the help of her mother Carmen and brother Charbel, Vazquez-Rijos produced birth certificates and identity papers designed to show that her father was born in Corsica of Jewish heritage, and that her maternal grandmother was raised in the Jewish faith in the Canary Islands, Spain.
But the forgeries contained innumerable mistakes. For example, Corsica was spelled "Corsega," Madrid was spelled with a lower case "M," some dates were wrong and family names misspelled. Most of the mistakes were made by the accused’s brother Charbel.
In January 2012, afraid that her scheme was falling apart, Vazquez-Rijos wrote Charbel an angry email: "Stay very awake . . . These people look at everything with a magnifying glass. Pay attention to details."
Vazquez-Rijos then took the doctored documents to the chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Florence, Rav Joseph Levi, and told him a story about her husband dying in a car crash, asked the community for help to find housing, and requested official acknowledgement that she and her daughters were Jewish. The community provided assistance while studying the paperwork.
When the rabbinical council asked her about mistakes in the documentation, she said she was having difficulties contacting "different branches of the family tree." Meanwhile, back in Puerto Rico, Charbel was correcting the mistakes.
Finally, a month later, she received news from the council: It had "unanimously resolved to recognize the Jewish status of (Vazquez-Rijos) for all purposes."
With that affirmation in hand, she took the next step and contacted a criminal lawyer in Jerusalem, Nick Kaufman. "I have a very particular situation," she wrote. "I need counselling." She wanted to know all about Israel’s extradition laws.
Vazquez-Rijos told Kaufman that she was a widow falsely accused of involvement in her husband’s death and she was considering "Aliya" — emigration to Israel. "How can I be protected as a single mother with two children?" she asked. "How American is Israel?"
Kaufman responded with a request for a retainer of 1,500 Euros, and asked the key question: "Are you and your children Jewish?"
"Me and my daughters are fully Jewish," she responded. But just to cover all bases, she asked Rabbi Levi to confirm that her daughters Vittoria and Giulia were also considered Jewish. The rabbi did just that. "They are registered in our community," he wrote Vazquez-Rijos.
However, the flight to Israel never happened. Israeli law does not shield its nationals from extradition if they are accused of serious crimes. As it turns out, Vazquez-Rijos would not have been any safer in Israel than in Italy.
In any case, she was arrested in an FBI sting operation in Madrid a year later, and eventually extradited to Puerto Rico to face the murder conspiracy charge, after U.S. authorities agreed not to seek the death penalty.
The twin girls are in the custody of their father in Italy.
The defence lawyers for Vazquez-Rijos and the two other accused will make their case starting Monday.