Authorities investigating whether ambush of David Ortiz was hatched behind bars
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Authorities here are investigating whether the plot to kill David Ortiz was hatched by two prisoners behind bars, as police in the United States disclosed some of the suspects’ criminal histories in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Jose Eduardo Ciprian Lebron, who has been jailed for two years on murder charges in an unrelated case, and Carlos Rafael Alvarez, who is serving a 20-year sentence for aggravated robbery, were transferred from prison for interrogation, according to Alvarez’s lawyer and two people briefed on the investigation.
Authorities are investigating whether Lebron planned the killing, according to the two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. One said police are investigating whether Lebron played a role in arranging the $7,800 payout to the alleged hitmen.
Authorities have also told Alvarez’s lawyer, Bella Brea, that they have evidence that her client spoke with some of the six suspects already arrested in connection with the shooting.
The interrogation of the prisoners underscored the widening scope of the investigation — with more than 12 people now implicated — as Dominican police scramble to determine who ordered the killing of one of the country’s most revered sports figures, and why.
Nine people were presented before the court on Thursday evening on attempted homicide, gun, and gang charges in connection with the shooting of Ortiz. They were slated to be indicted on Thursday, but the indictment was pushed back until Friday because one of the suspects did not have an attorney.
The group of nine included three people who had previously not been charged in the case. Alvarez was among them.
Four additional suspects remain at large, police said. One of those men appears to be the local boss of a criminal organization in Reading, Pa., who was charged with ordering the killing of a man in that city last year.
Officials have said Ortiz was shot once in the back at close range on the patio of a crowded Santo Domingo nightclub Sunday night. The gunman, police said, was driven to the bar on a motorcycle and accompanied by people in two cars.
Ortiz, 43, remained in intensive care Thursday at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is recovering from surgery to repair his intestines and liver.
Family and friends have said that he has taken his first steps and has been cracking jokes.
“My dad hasn’t complained once,” Ortiz’s daughter, Alexandria Ortiz, wrote on Instagram Thursday. “He may be hungry (he’s eating only ice right now) and he may be tired but you know what he said not more than 3 minutes ago? ‘Even the toothpaste tastes good here.’ I hoped to share a bit of optimism in a time like this.”
While Ortiz is recovering, police in New Jersey said they are trying to determine if the suspected gunman, Rolfi Ferreras Cruz, 25, was responsible for two muggings in Clifton on Dec. 22, 2017.
Prosecutors in New Jersey said Cruz was charged with multiple counts of armed robbery and illegal firearm counts.
Clifton police say Cruz was one of our four masked men who brandished handguns and robbed two men as they walked down the street. Three of the alleged robbers were arrested but Cruz, who was 23 and living in Paterson at the time, was never located. New Jersey police released a photo of him at the time, in hopes of tracking him down.
Cruz was arrested Tuesday night in the Dominican town of Mao, in the northern part of the country. Authorities said he has confessed to shooting Ortiz.
One of the suspects who remains at large, Luis Rivas-Clase, known as “the Surgeon,” allegedly ordered two underlings to kill a man in Reading, Pa., on April 22, 2018, police said.
The victim, who was shot in the groin but survived, told authorities that Rivas-Clase had threatened him to kill him several days earlier if he did not leave town, said Reading’s deputy police chief, Osborne Robinson.
Robinson described Rivas-Clase as “the boss” of a local criminal enterprise and said he remains a fugitive from charges of conspiracy to commit attempted homicide.
“We have no reason to believe that the case that we have Luis charged for has anything to do with the case in the Dominican Republic,” Robinson said Thursday.
Rivas-Clase also has a criminal history in Paterson, N.J., where he was charged in 2016 with unlawful possession of a machine gun and a high-capacity magazine, according to the Passaic county sheriff’s office.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic have urged Rivas-Clase to turn himself in and have asked the public for any information about his whereabouts.
The men most recently arrested in connection with the shooting appeared at a courthouse in East Santo Domingo on Thursday.
They eventually will be charged with attempted homicide, gang activity, and gun violations.
The courthouse is part of a makeshift operation that includes a small, dark jail cell where most detainees wait before they make their initial appearances before a judge in a trailer in the parking lot. The cell, where detainees are visible from behind an iron gate, is cordoned off by barbed wire, and reeks of sweat and urine.
Earlier this week, the first man arrested in the case, Eddy Vladimir Feliz Garcia, made his appearance at the courthouse, where he was charged with acting as an accessory to commit murder.
Authorities allege he drove the gunman to the Dial Bar and Lounge. His lawyer, Deivi Solano, has said his client is a motorcycle taxi driver who had no idea he was driving a gunman.
Solano has argued that anyone implicated in the shooting should not be held in a cell with other prisoners. He noted that Garcia was severely beaten by an angry mob when he fell off his motorcycle after the shooting.
“It’s not safe in there,” Solano said, pointing to the cell. “David Ortiz is the most loved ballplayer in our country .. . . We don’t want any more beatings.”
Meanwhile, Tiffany Ortiz, Ortiz’s wife, praised the “quick thinking and swift action” of Eliezer Salvador, the bar patron who drove her husband to the hospital after he was shot.
“Your heroism and selflessness were the first steps to ensuring David could get the urgent care he required,” she said. “For that, we are eternally grateful.”
She also thanked the staff at Abel González Clinic, who performed the initial surgery on her husband.
“There are no words to express our gratitude for the amazing care you provided,” she said. “Without you, our story could have had a tragic ending. You will forever be our guardian angels.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said he spoke to Tiffany Ortiz on Thursday.
“She’s holding strong, and the big man has been the big man,’’ Cora said. “She said, ‘He’s just a beast.’ ”
Travis Andersen, Bob Hohler, Alex Speier, and Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.