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Official Charged in Plot to Kill Rival

Times Staff Writer

Prosecutors on Friday charged the deputy city clerk of Maywood with soliciting the murder of an outspoken councilman who has spearheaded the city’s efforts to improve treatment of illegal immigrants.

Prosecutors allege that Hector Duarte sent threatening letters to Councilman Felipe Aguirre after he made national headlines for his efforts to make the small city south of downtown a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

The letters criticized Aguirre’s stance, but authorities contend that Duarte was really motivated by concerns about possible budget cuts that might reduce salaries or cost him his job.

They maintain that Duarte asked around to see whether anyone would be willing to kill Aguirre. Aguirre said the alleged plot came to light after a man was arrested a month ago during a drug bust and told police about the reputed solicitation.

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Duarte is expected to be arraigned Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sandi Roth of the Public Integrity Division declined to elaborate on details of the case.

The 29-year-old Duarte is a promoter and announcer at boxing events who grew up in the densely populated city.

Friends said he was frustrated by a shift in political power in Maywood to politicians led by Aguirre, 53, and Mayor Thomas Martin.

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Duarte opposed the mayor’s aggressive support for the rights of illegal immigrants and is also charged with making threatening phone calls to him.

Maywood police have been guarding Aguirre since the case was made public last week.

“I don’t know why someone would want to do this, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Solicitation of murder, that’s major, major leagues.”

Aguirre, who runs an immigrant rights center in Maywood, was elected last year and helped tip the balance of political power in the city after a rambunctious election.

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Since then, Maywood’s government has been divided on many issues, but none as publicly as illegal immigration.

Aguirre has declared the city a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

In recent months, the city eliminated its Police Department’s Traffic Division after complaints were made that officers unfairly targeted illegal immigrants.

Then the city made it much more difficult for police to tow cars from owners who didn’t have driver’s licenses, a practice that had primarily affected illegal immigrants who could not obtain licenses.

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In January, the City Council passed a resolution opposing a proposed federal law that would criminalize illegal immigration and make local police enforce immigration laws.

The actions created conflict at City Hall. Duarte told The Times earlier this year that he was concerned about the council’s stance.

Councilman Sam Pena, who has butted heads with Aguirre on several issues, said Friday that he did not believe the charges against Duarte.

He said Maywood Police Chief Bruce Leflar called him soon after the arrest.

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“I questioned the chief. I said, ‘I hope we got all our pieces covered,’ ” Pena said. “He said, ‘We have the notes and we do have some traces from his house to other locations.’ ... They need to have some hard-core evidence.”

Maywood is one of the nation’s most densely populated cities -- nearly 45,000 people live in 1.2 square miles. An estimated 96% of the residents are Latino, and more than half are foreign-born.

For his part, Aguirre said things had gotten so politically woolly in Maywood that it was time for some calm.

“We need to get to a point where we can have a dialogue with our so-called opponents,” he said. “We need some clarity and peace in the city.”

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Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.


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