Last week, while investigating the attempt to blackmail an Orange Walk businessman, police CIB officers unwittingly stumbled upon an information bonanza when they picked up Francisco Rodriguez, 23, and Edwin Flores, after they followed Flores’ girlfriend, who had gone to pick up blackmail money from Lord Ridge Cemetery in Belize City, in a sting operation.
It turned out that Rodriguez was wanted for an armed robbery in Cayo, and he allegedly confessed to police that he was the person who had set the fire that destroyed Kimmie’s bar on Newtown Barracks in the early morning of June 25.
Rodriguez, who has been linked to the transnational criminal gang, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, pleaded guilty to the charge of robbery with a firearm and was sentenced to 5 years in prison when he appeared before the San Ignacio Magistrate’s Court.
Edwin Flores, who is also linked to the MS-13 gang, and his 16-year-old minor girlfriend, were remanded to prison on a charge of blackmail after police foiled their plan to collect $8,000 from the Orange Walk businessman.
A court removal order was subsequently issued to the Belize Central Prison for Rodriguez, to be brought to the Belize City Magistrate’s Court today to be arraigned on charges relating to the fire which destroyed Kimmie’s Bar and two other buildings. The early morning fire also claimed the life of Jacqueline Arteaga, a mother of three, who was also pregnant with a fourth child.
In court, Magistrate Herbert Panton told Rodriguez that no plea was required from him, before he arraigned him on one count of murder for causing the unlawful death of Jacqueline Arteaga, 23.
Rodriguez was additionally arraigned with four counts of arson, for allegedly setting the fire that destroyed Kimmie’s Bar and the other adjacent buildings. Panton also informed him that arson is an indictable offense and will be heard in the Supreme Court.
On the first count of arson, Rodriguez was charged for allegedly causing damage by fire to a juke box, 10 televisions, 10 standing fans, an air condition unit, 13 seats, 3 fuses, 4 refrigerators, 3 stoves, 2 microwaves and 3 complete sofa sets, the property of Marilyn Moreira.
The second count of the arson charge was imposed for the damage Rodriguez allegedly caused to a 20 x 30-foot structure, valuing $80,000, that comprises the lower part of the building at 146 Newtown Barracks, and is the property of Peter, Emily, Lupita and Antonio Quan.
The third count of arson was imposed on Rodriguez for causing damage by fire to a 36 x 56-foot 2-storey cement structure at 14 A Barracks Road, which is also the property of Peter, Emily, Lupita and Antonio Quan, and which has been valued at $150,000.
The fourth count of arson was for the damage the fire caused to a variety of household items and clothing that were the property of Therman Cabral and were valued at $6,000.
Rodriguez was remanded to the Belize Central Prison until September 29, 2014, when he is due to return to court.
When Rodriguez was arrested last Tuesday, July 22, after a police sting operation that resulted in his apprehension, as well as the arrest of Edwin Flores, he gave the police a caution statement implicating himself in the arson that caused a fire at Kimmie’s Bar. As a result, his case file was sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution and police were advised to charge him with the murder of Arteaga and the four counts of arson.
Rodriguez’s first encounter with the criminal justice system was in October 2010, when he was 18-years-old and was accused of snatching a woman’s bag which contained her cellphone.
In November 2010, Rodriguez was sentenced to one year in prison for one count of theft. Although it was his first offense, Magistrate Emerson Banner, who sentenced him to prison, observed that he had shown no remorse in court.