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David Ortiz was not the intended target in shooting, Dominican Republic officials say

Dominican officials say Ortiz was mistaken for different target
It's a major reversal from the investigation's previous conclusion. (Photo: Michael Dwyer / AP, File, Video: Mark Gartsbeyn)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — The country’s top prosecutor announced Wednesday that retired Red Sox star David Ortiz was not the intended target of an attempted contract killing at a nightclub here earlier this month but was mistaken for a man who was sitting at the same table.

At an evening news conference, Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez identified the man who more than a dozen people had plotted to kill as Sixto David Fernández, a friend of Ortiz’s who was at the Dial Bar and Lounge the evening of June 9.

Ortiz, 43, perhaps one of the most famous and recognizable figures in the Caribbean nation, was the victim of a “cowardly attack,” Rodriguez said. He said investigators worked tirelessly to find those who arranged the shooting; 11 suspects have been arrested in the case with several more still at large.

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Rodriguez said he personally interviewed Ortiz the day after the shooting and asked who would want to hurt him. Ortiz told him he was not aware of any threats against him.

The shooting should not cause public alarm or give people reason to “question a great man like David Ortiz,” he said.

“Investigators followed all possible hypotheses to get to the truth,” Rodriguez said.

Authorities bristled when reporters questioned discrepancies between the disclosure that Ortiz was the victim of mistaken identity and court documents that state that Ortiz and a second man wounded in the attack were followed to the nightclub on June 9.

Authorities said the mistaken identity could be traced to a photograph that made it appear as if Fernández had on white pants, like the pair that Ortiz wore on the night of the shooting.

Officials said Fernández was allegedly targeted by his cousin, Victor Hugo Gomez, who has ties to drug trafficking. Gomez believes Fernández “gave him up” to law enforcement when he was arrested in 2011 and wanted him dead, authorities said.

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Fernández was “the only one who would have something against him that would bring about this type of hit,” Rodriguez said.

The Ortiz family declined to comment Wednesday night.

Ortiz was shot in the back at close range, causing damage to several organs. He has been in intensive care at Massachusetts General Hospital since last Monday. Leo Lopez, a spokesman for Ortiz, said earlier Wednesday that Ortiz has begun walking.

Before Wednesday’s announcement, unsubstantiated stories about the incident had proliferated on social media and in tabloid newspapers. Many Dominicans were skeptical that the hulking former athlete could be mistaken for Fernández, who in a photo provided by authorities appeared to be far smaller with a lighter complexion.

Sitting in the lobby of the Barcelo Santo Domingo hotel Wednesday night, Israel De La Cruz and his wife were among the many Dominicans skeptical about the results of the investigation.

“I don’t believe it,” said De La Cruz, 47, a pianist. “I don’t think they investigated it thoroughly.”

His wife, Leidy Muñoz, showed a picture circulating on the Internet of Ortiz and Fernández. She noted that they don’t look anything alike. Ortiz has dark skin; Fernández has light skin, she noted.

“Who in this country doesn’t know David Ortiz?” said Muñoz, 35. “The mistaken identity theory seems absurd.”

Rodriguez said Rolfi Ferreras Cruz, 25, has admitted to firing the shot that injured Ortiz. Ferreras Cruz has reportedly claimed from jail that Ortiz wasn’t his target, saying he was confused because he had only been told the color of the intended victim’s clothing.

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“It wasn’t David,” he said, according to a video posted online by the newspaper Diario Libre.

Ferreras Cruz has been indicted, and a prosecutor has said he will push for a 40-year prison term for him.

The conspirators were hired for approximately $7,800, according to authorities.

Authorities laid out a tangled web of connections they said led to the mistaken attack. At least two of the suspects were already in prison and contacted other alleged conspirators to arrange the shooting.

One of the suspects currently in custody, Alberto Miguel Rodriguez Mota, was at the nightclub a few hours before the shooting, waiting for Fernández, according to the officials.

Video taken at the club shows that in the wake of the shooting, Mota was the only person who does not appear to act surprised, according to authorities.

As patrons scattered in panic moments after the shooting, Mota “stayed in the same spot, observing what just happened,” said Ney Aldrin Bautista, director of the National Police.

“The only person who remained was the man who was at the bar since 5:40,” he said. “After everything, he left.

“He drank some of his beer and then placed it down, but he stays there,” he added. “He stays there, in plain sight.”

Mota, officials said, did prison time with Gomez, whom the attorney general referred to as the “intellectual author” of the hit. Gomez, authorities said, was among dozens charged earlier this year with drug-trafficking-related counts that arose from a federal probe in the United States dubbed “Operation Wrecking Ball.”

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Gomez is currently a fugitive from US authorities, officials said Wednesday. Investigators were unsure of his whereabouts on Wednesday.

Rodriguez, the attorney general, promised not to rest until justice is served in the case and all the people who were involved in he shooting are captured.

“An act of this nature cannot go unpunished,” he said.

On Tuesday, Ortiz’s wife, Tiffany, said that her husband’s condition had been upgraded to good.

In a statement, she said her family remains “grateful to everyone who has helped David through this ordeal, both in the Dominican Republic and here in Boston. David’s journey to good health has been bolstered by the many expressions of love that have come to us from across the globe. Your support has lifted his spirits tremendously during this challenging time.”

José Martínez Hoepelman, a lawyer for Ortiz, said Tuesday that the revered former slugger is “innocent in what happened. He has no connection to illicit activities, no relationships with people who have criminal connections, nor has he violated his family values that would bring about such an incident.”


Maria Cramer and Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.