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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Secretary 'Killed Him, It Was a Setup'

Family Members Say Sister Was Set Up in Brother's Murder

It started eight years ago, when a jealous Deborah Ann Perna became incensed at her father's announcement that he was turning the family trucking business over to her brother, David Montemayor.

As it turned out, sympathetic secretary Edelmira Corona, 34, had just the right connections -- a friend named Anthony "Droopy" Navarro, a gang member who, according to court records, had done stints behind bars for manslaughter and robbery. The women decided to get rid of Montemayor and believed Navarro to be just the man for the job.

Deborah Ann Perna  Credit: Orange County District Attorney's Office
Orange County District Attorney's Office
Deborah Ann Perna was sentenced to life inprison for plotting the murder of her brother David Montemayor.
And, as planned, Montemayor was kidnapped on Oct. 2, 2002, as he arrived for work. Three gang members forced the businessman to drive back to his house, where they thought a cache of loot was waiting. But instead, Montemayor jumped out of the car a short distance from home and was gunned down on a sidewalk as he begged for his life, according to authorities.

The final participant in this morbid plot -- Armando Macias, 35 -- is now on trial, alleged to have fired the fatal shot. The others, including the two women, have been convicted.

Despite Perna's murder conviction, both her surviving brother, Darren Montemayor, and father, Pete Montemayor, refuse to believe she orchestrated the killing and continue to stand behind her.

"Mira killed him, it was a setup," Darren Montemayor, 45, said of the secretary. "She didn't like my brother, they argued."

Darren Montemayor told AOL News he still questions the events leading up to his brother's death and doesn't buy the prosecution's version of what happened. He claims that because Corona took an extended leave from her job, her benefits were cut. That action created resentment against his brother, who was managing the business.

Darren Montemayor said he travels to Perna's Central California prison a few times a year for visits, as does his father, who has since moved to Texas.

"I just wish we had some answers," Darren Montemayor said. "Maybe it wasn't meant to be a murder but just a scare tactic thing. Maybe for money."

Montemayor said the business, Interfreight Transport Inc., was located in Los Angeles' high crime Compton district and could easily have been targeted by gang members.

His belief in Perna's innocence has crippled his relationship with Susan Montemayor, the victim's widow, who has been an outspoken critic of Perna during the numerous court proceedings. The pair rarely speak.

But trial testimony showed that Perna, 54, was the driving force behind the murder.

"This case is about hatred and jealousy," Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner told AOL News. "The parents were going to turn over the family business to the victim and Perna didn't like that."

Perna's hatred of her brother began long before she was cut out of the business. A false rumor traveled around the office that he was skimming money and had collected more than $50,000 in cash that was hidden in coffee cans in the garage of his Buena Park home, according to testimony.

"She believed it and complained to her dad, 'My brother's stealing and you're not doing anything about it,'" Wagner said. David Montemayor "just shrugged off the accusations as if they were a joke."

So when the time came for her parents to retire, Perna decided to recruit assassins with the promise that they could retrieve the money in David Montemayor's garage and keep it for their payment, according to testimony.

Corona contacted Navarro, the leader of a San Fernando Valley gang who was also a snitch for the FBI, LAPD, and ATF. Navarro then recruited three colleagues to carry out the killing. Armed with guns, the trio waited for Montemayor in the early morning hours outside his business.

When Montemayor arrived, one of the gunmen got in Montemayor's car and forced him to drive back home while the other two followed in another car. Suddenly, a short distance from home, Montemayor bolted from his car because he knew his wife and children were at home. The gunmen caught up with him a few blocks away, prosecutors said.

The public execution may have saved the lives of Montemayor's family. Instead of breaking into his house to rifle through the garage, the gunmen sped off, with police in pursuit. The gunmen drove 30 miles on surface streets and freeways before a police car rammed their vehicle into a utility pole. A suspect who jumped out and started to run was shot in the shoulder by police, according to media reports.

One of the suspects was carrying a note written by Perna that listed Montemayor's home address and phone number. It wasn't long before detectives traced the crime back to Perna. Corona agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence. She has testified in the numerous trials.

Anthony Navarro  Credit: Orange County District Attorney's Office
Gang member Anthony "Droopy" Navarro received the death penalty in 2008 for orchestrating the murder of David Montemayor.

Perna was sentenced to life in prison in 2006; Navarro, 44, received the death penalty in 2008; and the third kidnapper, Gerardo Lopez, 26, received life in prison without parole because he was a juvenile when the killing happened, according to court records.

The trucking business was not profitable and folded after Montemayor's death.

"My dad wasn't into it anymore and that was it," Darren Montemayor said. "It was too much money in debt. The warehouse cost $25,000 a month. It was already falling apart and (vendors) stopped paying their bills."

As for Perna, she's in a prison wing reserved for good-behavior inmates. She works in the kitchen and looks forward to visits from her two adult children, Montemayor said.

"She's there for a reason. I'm not trying to defend her, I just want to know the truth," Montemayor added. "My father and I don't talk about it much."

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