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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, February 24, 2014

Feds Foil Hit Against South Side Homicide Witnesses

First Ass't DA Terry Houck
The FBI, acting in concert with the Bethlehem Police Department, has foiled an assassination planned against witnesses to a 2012 Southside shooting that killed one person and wounded five others. Sonia Panell, wife of accused murderer Rene Figueroa, wanted to eliminate three witnesses scheduled to testify against her husband, but unknowingly hired a federal informant for the job. She's been charged with using interstate commerce facilities to solicit and assist in murders for hire. In federal detention, she faces up to 25 years in prison.

Northampton County DA John Morganelli announced these charges at a Friday afternoon news conference. His office is prosecuting the most bloody episode of the South Side's history since the 1910 Bethlehem Steel strike. Yolanda Morales, age 23, died in a hail of gunfire during the early morning hours of December 2, 2012. Five others were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. One of them will be paralyzed for the rest of his life. An argument inside the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society, a club located at 205 E. Third Street, spilled over into the streets and became a thirty-bullet fusillade.

Rene Figueroa, age 32, faces homicide and related charges, including the use of a stolen .45 caliber pistol. Javier Rivera-Alverado, age 38, has also been charged with attempted homicide and aggravated assault. The trial in this matter was supposed to start March 3. It has now been postponed, and Morganelli made clear he wants this matter tried. "Our office is going to do everything we can to oppose any further delays in this case." he declared.

First Assistant DA Terry Houck, lead prosecutor in this matter, stated that "very early on, we received complaints from victims and witnesses who thought they were being followed." Bethlehem police were able to confirm that victims were, in fact, being stalked.

Panel's hitman was, according to Houck, a family friend contacted in Ohio. He was offered a car, gun, unspecified sum of money and even night vision goggles to "take care of" two of the victims and a witness. She created a false Facebook profile to gather information as well.

One of the three intended targets, Angle Figueroa (unrelated to Rene) is already paralyzed as a result of the shooting. Another, Shajuan Hungerford, is a woman who slapped Rene Figueroa.

"[S]he done touched Rene’s face. She’s gotta pay for it!" Panell is quoted in federal documents as having said.

Will this make witnesses less likely to testify? Not at all, according to Houck. "This sends a clear message that we're not going to stand by," noted Houck. "We're going to be all over this."

Morganelli added that, even in small cases, witnesses are often fearful. "The message here is that law enforcement does take this seriously," he stated.

Houck stated there is no evidence of any organized crime or gang related activity. But he believes this plan was very real. "She had enough moxie to go out of state and bring that person here," he concluded.


Anonymous said...

How old is Mr. Houck? He looks a lot like Larry King.

Anonymous said...

They say there is no connection to organized crime, but it sure sounds like it if someone is to be killed for slapping someone. Similar mentality. Animals.

Anonymous said...

BOH was all about minimizing the full extent of this violence in the Bethlehem Latino community last year.
This simple comment will label me racist.
It's not unique for an ethnic community to have its violent players.
Labeling any attempt to have a conversation about this as racist does not bring progress on any level.