Husband Finally Charged in Woman’s ’03 Slaying

Richard Winton (The Los Angeles Times)

May 30, 2010

The L.A. County district attorney’s office alleges that Gustavo Alvarez hired a member of the Avenues gang to kill his wife, who was gunned down outside a Highland Park restaurant.

As Virginia stepped out of the couple’s SUV, a man with a shotgun approached and fatally shot the mother of three in the head. The gunman and an accomplice fled in a small white car.

Alvarez’s killing was as mysterious as it was brazen. Was it a botched robbery? Did it involve a personal grudge? Or, was it somehow related to her job as a secretary in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s internal affairs section? Investigators were confounded.

Seven months after her slaying, the victim’s mother appeared at a news conference with half a dozen other relatives, begging anyone with information to call police. “Someone out there knows the truth,” Antonia Rivera said.

That person, police now say, is Gustavo Alvarez.

According to court documents obtained by The Times, detectives allege that Gustavo Alvarez hired a member of the notorious Avenues street gang to kill his wife.

“This was a puzzle with a lot of tiny pieces,” said Capt. Kevin McClure of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division. “The picture became clearer the more pieces we added.”

Ultimately, gang associates and family members helped detectives put it altogether, McClure said.

Jeremy Karpel, Alvarez’s defense attorney, said his client is innocent.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the couple was in the process of separating at the time of the killing. On the surface, the split seemed amicable. The couple had agreed to evenly divide their assets. Gustavo Alvarez, 46, a phone company employee, had filed papers signing over the couple’s Pico Rivera home, the court documents show.

But Virginia Alvarez, 37, learned that her husband had assets that she had previously been unaware of, including a 61-foot yacht, according to the affidavit and state records.

Rivera told authorities that her daughter already had reason to distrust her husband because he was cheating on her, court records show.

Jimmy Alvarez told police that Joseph Luis Sepulveda, a gang member known as “Pee Wee,” shot Virginia Alvarez, according to the court records. Sepulveda and Jimmy Alvarez were old acquaintances who were once arrested for robbery together, the records show.

Sepulveda and Gustavo Alvarez were no strangers either, detectives allege.

An aunt with whom Sepulveda lived told police that Gustavo Alvarez began coming to the house to speak with her nephew.

According to the affidavit, she told police she overheard Sepulveda on the telephone telling someone that Gustavo Alvarez was going to pay him $20,000 to $30,000 to kill his wife. She said Alvarez gave Sepulveda the restaurant’s location and that Sepulveda’s girlfriend drove him there. Hernandez said her nephew told her that Gustavo Alvarez wanted his wife killed because they were experiencing marital problems.

Vincent Hernandez, Sepulveda’s uncle, also told police that his nephew admitted to him that he killed Virginia Alvarez, according to the warrant.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed capital murder charges against Sepulveda, 38, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Barreau, 29, in July 2008.

In September 2008, more than five years after his wife’s shooting, detectives showed Gustavo Alvarez a photograph of Sepulveda, but Alvarez denied knowing him, according to the affidavit.

Police arrested Alvarez in January after one of his alleged accomplices implicated him in the plot and agreed to testify against him. He’s being held without bail at the Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles.

Philip Peng, an alternate public defender who represents Barreau, declined comment. Sepulveda’s attorney said his client is not cooperating with authorities.

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