The FBI on Thursday arrested a man in Fountain Valley and a woman in San Juan Capistrano, saying the pair lured a man onto a boat with the promise of a fishing trip in order to kill him over a debt he owed.
Hoang Xuan Le, 38, of Fountain Valley, is charged with first-degree murder, and Sheila Marie Ritze, 40, of San Juan Capistrano, is charged with being an accessory after the fact, authorities said.
The victim was duped into coming aboard a boat, the Sea Konig, in the Dana Point Harbor on Oct. 14 under the guise of an overnight lobster fishing trip, according to federal criminal complaints filed late Wednesday and unsealed Thursday.
The Coast Guard found the man’s body floating in the ocean two days later, several miles northwest of Oceanside. The San Diego County medical examiner’s office determined that he had drowned after being shot in the head and suffering blunt force trauma, prosecutors said. Authorities have not released his name, and court documents identify him only as a man about 40 years old.
Authorities allege that Le is a drug trafficker who was acquainted with the victim, and say Ritze is the registered owner of the Sea Konig .
According to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Le confessed to a confidential informant that “he took the victim out on the boat, confronted the victim about a debt owed, shot the victim, tied weights to the victim’s ankles and sank the victim’s body in the ocean.”
Le told people, including the victim’s girlfriend, that he had decided at the last minute not to go on the fishing trip because he left the harbor with a girl he met at a bar, and that the victim went without him, the affidavit states.
Nine days after the man’s body was found, the informant contacted a member of the victim’s family and said Le had confessed to killing him because the man owed Le between $30,000 and $40,000, according to court records.
After agreeing to work with law enforcement, the informant went to Le’s home on Nov. 10 and purchased cocaine, and Le “indicated a willingness to be a hitman,” prosecutors said.
“I’m a debt collector OK? ... I collect money,” he allegedly said, explaining that he or his crew kill people when they don’t pay up, the affidavit states.
Agents, according to the affidavit, tied Le and Ritze to the killing with the help of not only the informant but extensive video camera footage from the Dana Point Harbor and an analysis of their cellphone tracks and the victim’s.
Authorities linked Ritze to the slaying using information on the location of her phone at the time the boat left and returned, the affidavit states.
Video obtained from Dana Point Harbor shows three people — who investigators say are Ritze, Le and the victim — on the boat when it launched Oct. 14. When the vessel returned hours later, only Ritze and Le were aboard, officials said.
Ritze also canvassed Dana Point Harbor for surveillance cameras soon after the slaying and purchased a tracking device that, according to data retrieved from her phone and described in the affidavit, was found on a vehicle belonging to the victim’s girlfriend.
The girlfriend had reported the victim missing and continued to contact Le multiple times after the fishing trip to ask what had happened, according to court documents.
After the Coast Guard visited Le’s home to interview him on Nov. 20, Le allegedly told the informant that he blamed the victim’s girlfriend and said he would “check her later,” which the informant interpreted to mean that Le planned to either speak with her or kill her, the affidavit states.
Authorities also found in Ritze’s phone multiple driver’s license photographs that investigators believe “may be targets of other murders for hire,” according to the affidavit.
At initial court appearances Thursday afternoon, Le and Ritze were ordered held without bond. They are due in court Jan. 2 for preliminary hearings.
Before the arrests, the FBI searched a home in the 18000 block of 3rd Street, near Magnolia Street and Talbert Avenue, according to the Fountain Valley Police Department.
During the search of the home, which is listed as Le’s address on his driver’s license, authorities found an AR-15-type rifle, a shotgun and a crossbow, federal prosecutors said.
Winton and Wigglesworth are Times staff writers. Money writes for Times Community News.