South Florida

Miami National Guard soldiers emerge as suspects in 2013 murder

Jonathan Otero and Lenin Otero.
Jonathan Otero and Lenin Otero.

Two Miami brothers, both members of the U.S. Army’s Florida National Guard, have emerged as suspects in the 2013 murder of an off-duty federal airport security officer.

The revelation comes as Miami-Dade prosecutors this week charged Lenin and Jonathan Otero not with the killing but on accusations of unrelated white-collar crimes, including racketeering, insurance fraud and forgery.

A Miami-Dade judge on Tuesday ordered Lenin, 35, to post a $655,000 bond before he can be released from jail. Jonathan was arrested in Jacksonville and remained in jail there Tuesday.

Their arrests heighten the mystery surrounding the slaying of Miami Transportation Security Administration Officer Ernesto Lluberes Jr., 41, who was found shot to death inside his truck in a Liberty City warehouse district on Nov. 10, 2013.

In Miami civil court, Lluberes’ widow has quietly filed a wrongful death lawsuit blaming the Oteros for the murder. The alleged motive is money. Just one month before his killing, Lluberes purchased a $1 million life insurance policy naming Jonathan as the chief beneficiary, the lawsuit alleges — for unexplained reasons.

In civil depositions, the Otero brothers have invoked their right to remain silent, refusing to answer questions from the widow’s attorney about the murder of Lluberes.

“These guys have no reason to take the Fifth if they’re innocent,” said the widow’s civil attorney, Jorge Borron. “They have no reason not to cooperate.”

The Otero’s defense lawyers, Madeline Acosta and Christina Diaz, insist Miami-Dade police are squeezing their clients only because they have zero evidence in the homicide case.

“The body was found in November 2013. To this date, they have been unable to make any arrests whatsoever. They have nothing linking them to the body,” Acosta said Tuesday. “At some point, maybe they should look at other suspects.”

Lenin, who joined the National Guard in 1998, is an active-duty staff sergeant with the 260th Military Intelligence Unit. His brother, Jonathan, 26, is a lieutenant with the same unit but serves as a reserve officer.

Lluberes’ widow filed the wrongful death suit in May 2014. The brothers are asking a judge to throw out the suit, saying “there is no direct or indirect evidence, no eyewitness testimony, no physical evidence” tying them to the slaying.

The murder of Lluberes remains shrouded in mystery.

Lluberes was a TSA screener at Miami International Airport. He lived with this wife, Socorro del Carmen Castillo, in the Naranja neighborhood of South Miami-Dade.

His last day alive was Nov. 9, 2013. That evening, his wife had come home about 11 p.m. from a family event. She was surprised to see her husband already awake. Lluberes was not supposed to work until a 2 a.m. graveyard shift.

Lluberes was wearing his TSA work uniform, Castillo told lawyers at a deposition.

“I went to the bathroom and I changed,” she recalled. “Then, I noticed he had left and hadn’t said anything to me.”

Hours later, police found Lluberes shot to death inside his red Ford pickup truck near Northwest 72nd Street and 12th Avenue — some 30 miles from his home.

The slaying baffled police and Lluberes’ family. In January 2014, the widow learned that the mother of Lluberes’ son from a previous marriage had received a letter from a life insurance company wondering why no claim had been made.

That was when relatives learned that Lluberes, without telling them, had purchased a Prudential life insurance policy for $1million. Fifteen percent was to go to his son. But the rest was slated for Jonathan Otero, who put in a claim for the money.

Castillo insisted she did not know Jonathan — but she knew his brother, Lenin, all too well. The couple had at one time rented an apartment from Lenin, and the Army sergeant and Llubares fast became friends. But their relationship strained Llubares’ marriage — Castillo said Lenin was constantly calling or showing up out of the blue.

“He seems to be the person that likes to manipulate other people and that’s what he was doing to my husband,” Castillo said in her deposition. “Whenever he would call my husband, my husband would have to leave or go out, but I don’t know why.”

When Castillo complained, her husband “warned her not to do so as she did not know what Lenin Otero is capable of,” according to the lawsuit.

As for the life-insurance money, the widow said she knew of “no reason” for either man to on a policy.

Miami-Dade police and prosecutors eventually honed in on the Oteros. According to the lawsuit, the brothers “lied to the police” about their whereabouts the morning Lluberes was gunned down.

“Were you involved in the planning of the murder of Ernesto Lluberes with your brother,” civil attorney Jorge Borron asked Lenin in a deposition.

“I plead the Fifth,” Lenin replied, something he did repeatedly when questioned by Borron.

During his deposition, Jonathan also repeatedly invoked his right to remain silent, though he denied killing Lluberes when questioned by his own attorney.

Though no charges have been filed in the murder case, Miami-Dade police investigators say they nevertheless uncovered an array of scams perpetrated by the Otero family, who have been charged with an assortment of financial crimes. Also charged: parents Isolda Otero, 61, and Cayetano Otero, 63, and Lenin’s live-in girlfriend, Nancy Delgado, 34.

According to an arrest warrant filed by Miami-Dade homicide Detective Maria Mederos and prosecutors Gail Levine and Rebecca DiMeglio:

▪ Lenin filed bogus paperwork to get a $193,500 mortgage on a home he did not own. In a scam to obtain an insurance payout, Lenin also filed a fake police report falsely claiming burglars ransacked his Miami home.

▪ Jonathan and Delgado filed phony paperwork to the Florida Department of Highway Motor Vehicles to avoid paying taxes on the purchase of a motor home. She is also accused of submitting a false bill of sale for the purchase of a Ford Focus.

▪ Otero’s parents inflated their earnings to get a mortgage on a property in Miami.

Anyone with information on the November 2013 slaying of Ernesto Llubares can call Miami-Dade homicide at 305-471-2400, or Miami-Dade CrimeStoppers at 305-471-TIPS.