The Shooting of Estefano

One of Miami's best-known songwriters was nearly killed in a possible contract hit.

Strangely, though Gil had flown to Miami from Spain after hearing about the shooting, he never visited the hospital.

The Ochosi Yoruba Church is headquartered in a large salmon-colored home on SW 129th Avenue at 38th Street in West Kendall. Surrounded by a six-foot-tall white metal fence, it's difficult to discern that it's a house of worship. Like the other homes on the street, there's a lush green lawn and well-manicured tropical foliage surrounding the house. A black Hummer and silver Porsche SUV are parked in the circular driveway.

The only details that distinguish it from the other Mediterranean-style homes in the neighborhood are a deer head above the front door, a white statue of a saint on the grass, and the word Ochosi printed in black letters on the front of the building.

Estefano's albums with Donato (right) were the songwriter's most succesful. He also collaborated with Julio Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez.
Estefano's albums with Donato (right) were the songwriter's most succesful. He also collaborated with Julio Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez.

Around 2000, Gil and his former musical partner, Donato, introduced Estefano to the place, according to court documents. And it was there that Estefano became a Santería priest. He became so devoted that he donated a black Hummer to Suarez. And he invited the padrino to an awards ceremony in Las Vegas in 2007.

Junior also attended the Ochosi church, the songwriter's attorneys assert. (Though defense lawyer H. Frank Rubio says his client "had no connection to the church.")

Gil had paved Junior's way into the United States by urging Estefano to petition for a work visa for him and then hire him to work as a handyman at the studio. At first, he and Estefano got along well. Junior loved to tell the songwriter about martial arts, motorcycles, and cars. Gil paid the muscular young man for keeping everything in working order and running errands. "He was a great worker," Estefano said.

Indeed Junior had no criminal record in Florida until he was charged with trying to kill the songwriter.

On June 13, 2007 — about three weeks after the shooting — cops interviewed Estefano. He'd become understandably obsessed with his safety. He was apparently staying in a rented condo — and at the same time had contracted a security firm at a cost of $30,000 to patrol his San Marco Island home. He could barely hear because one of the bullets had grazed his right eardrum. And his face and head were bruised and scarred from the bullet wound.

The detectives nevertheless pressed for clues: Had there been any business disputes or contract issues? Beefs with other artists?

Estefano shook his head. He didn't mention the frosty discussions with Gil over money some months back. "I'm neither a reggaetonero or a rapper," he told them in Spanish. "It's not that kind of business. Not at all! Not at all, not at all.... I would love to know the motive, the reason of this. The only thing I ask God is to know why this happened."

Estefano wondered whether Junior was worried about losing his job. Another man had been doing odd jobs around the studio, he explained. That theory gained credence when the songwriter described how Junior had been rude to Natalia, Estefano's girlfriend, shortly before the shooting.

When the detectives asked about Gil, the answer was emphatic: "This man has been with me from the heart, because another one would have torn my soul and charged me."

But Estefano had hired two lawyers — Thornton and Neil Taylor — who, along with Assistant State Attorneys Alicia Garcia and Michael Von Zamft, would make significant progress in determining Junior's motive. They would also discover clues to the possible role of both Gil and the Ochosi church in the shooting. By reviewing financial and court records, as well as interviewing principals in the case, they would learn the following, according to court records:

• Junior called the son of the Santería church leader, Andres Suarez Jr., a couple of hours after the shooting on May 25. They spoke for two minutes.

• After receiving money from Gil, the church paid Rubio $136,000 to defend Junior.

• Gil wired Junior's wife, Andrea Romer, $3,000 less than a month after Junior's arrest.

• For several years before the shooting, Gil had placed large amounts of Estefano's Sony contract money into Panama-based banks without the songwriter's knowledge; Junior was authorized to draw money from those accounts.

"We got a signature card, and guess who signed it?" Taylor recalls. "The handyman: Junior. And who authorized him to sign it? Gil.

"That was how the whole thing unfolded."

On November 13, 2007, nearly six months after the shooting, Estefano sued Gil in civil court, claiming his mentor had "stolen assets and diverted money to a Santería organization and its principals." The Brazilian had engineered the murder plot to cover up the theft, court documents claimed.

A month later, the songwriter amended his lawsuit. Some of the cash had been turned over to the Ochosi church and Andres Suarez Sr. and Jr., he claimed. "It appears Estefano was betrayed in unimaginable ways by people who had been close to him," Thornton says. "The thing is, had the church asked my client for money, he would have given them some. Not millions of it, though."

Gil and the church leaders responded that they had done nothing wrong. He could prove he didn't steal money, song rights, or anything else. Junior's withdrawals from the Panamanian banks were spent on studio upkeep. "[Estefano] may even owe Gil money," wrote Luis Delgado, Gil's attorney, in a motion.

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