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‘Larrymania’ reality star is now in real trouble -- in small-town South Carolina

Larry Hernández
Mexican regional singer Larry Hernandez and the star of the popular Spanish TV show ¿Larrymania¿ poses for a photo during an interview in Los Angeles.

The singer Larry Hernandez became famous performing narcocorridos, the vivid ballads that chronicle the drug trade with bravado.

But on his reality show, “Larrymania,” he is a goofy if foul-mouthed star whose family adventures make for the type of low-key drama that resonates with a young, bilingual fan base that has also grown up with the Kardashians: He shops for baby clothes, vacations in London and lightheartedly argues with Kenia, the mother of his daughters.

Like other successful reality stars, the singer, whose show airs on Latino youth-oriented NBC Universo, has won loyal fans by making his life accessible and open on TV and social media.

Now that life is even more exposed as the Covina resident stands accused of kidnapping and assault in South Carolina in a case that has shocked fans and riveted Latino media since his arrest last month on a warrant at Ontario Airport.

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Clips of the singer appearing in San Bernardino County Superior Court for an extradition hearing, shackled and in green prison scrubs, have aired again and again on Spanish-language media along with daily updates on the case: Was his extradition canceled? Is he getting special treatment?

As a deadline approached last Wednesday for Hernandez’s transfer to South Carolina, reporters kept vigil in the small town of Newberry, where he was wanted, hoping to capture his arrival. As of Sunday afternoon, Hernandez was believed to be enroute to Newberry.

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One of those reporters waiting for him, Tanya Charry, of Univision’s entertainment news show “El Gordo y la Flaca,” said Hernandez’s story touched a nerve with the station’s audience.

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“This arrest has been so shocking because he’s so beloved and so connected to his fans,” she said. “He has a marvelous story of overcoming … one that is very much tied to the story of so many immigrants who come here trying to fulfill their dreams.”

Peter Dobrow, a spokesman for NBC Universo, said “Larrymania” is Hispanic cable television’s top-rated reality series and the most-watched entertainment show on the channel.

He declined, however, to comment on the future of the series.

Born in Los Angeles, Hernandez moved to Sinaloa, Mexico, with his mother when he was a small child. There, he’s said in interviews, he witnessed violence at an early age, including the kidnapping of women.

When he returned to the U.S., he told Univision reporter Jorge Ramos in 2012, he worked, like many other immigrants, in factories and packing plants. Later, he began to eke out a career in music that was helped along by posting on YouTube.

His breakout album was “16 Narco Corridos” (2009), which contains colorful tales of drug dealers and users.

“I speak the truth because I’ve seen a lot of things,” Hernandez told Ramos. “I was raised with this violence … I had to sing about what I knew.”

But his feelings about the music appeared to have shifted in recent years. Earlier this year, Charry said, he told her in an interview that he hoped to move away from narcocorridos, fearing the music could bring trouble to his family.

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The incident for which Hernandez now stands accused happened after he played a concert Aug. 15 at a skating rink in Newberry, population just over 10,000 and about 45 minutes northwest of the capital city of Columbia.

A man who was in charge of cleaning up after the concert told police Hernandez was enraged about being paid only $14,000 and demanded more. When another man left to get money, Hernandez and two others allegedly wrapped the first man in plastic wrap and then beat him in a parking lot and inside a tour van.

Later, Hernandez and the others removed the plastic and forced the man to “put his arms around them and act like they were friends” so they could take him to a hotel room where the beatings and threats continued, according to an incident report released by Newberry police.

Police were shown video of the victim being threatened and recovered a box of plastic wrap near the scene, according to the report.

A warrant led to Hernandez’s arrest Sept. 25 as he prepared to board a plane to Colorado.

Anthony R. Lopez, an attorney for Hernandez, declined to comment on the allegations, saying only that he hoped once Hernandez arrived in South Carolina he would appear for a bail hearing within 24 hours.

Charry, the Univision reporter, has been in Newberry since Oct. 1, awaiting Hernandez’s extradition. Last week, when word went out that Hernandez had finally been picked up from West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga and was en route to South Carolina, her crew headed to the local jail to try to capture his arrival.

“We haven’t gone to the hotel. We haven’t slept. He could arrive any moment,” Charry said.

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Newberry Mayor Foster Senn said he learned on Twitter that Hernandez was coming to town to play at the skating rink. He did a Google search and learned “he’s a big deal,” he said.

He was surprised to learn that Hernandez could be paid $14,000 or more for a concert at the rink.

“It’s not that big a place. It’s not a real nice place,” he said.

Newberry has seen its Latino population grow over the last two decades with immigrant families initially drawn by work in local poultry plants and dairies, Senn said. Latinos now make up about 12% of the town.

Since the story broke about the arrest, the mayor said, Spanish-language reporters can regularly be seen filing their stories in front of an old courthouse. Local Latinos sometimes recognize the reporters from TV and ask for autographs, he said.

“All of the Spanish-language television stations, I gather, have been here, Univision, Telemundo. Excuse my ignorance, I don’t know them all,” Senn said.

“Certainly that is very unusual. We don’t get that much media attention from our local television stations.”

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

Twitter: @palomaesquivel

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