Published Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 | 12:30 p.m.
Updated Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 | 3:47 p.m.
The 2001 white Mercedes brought the Cuban refugees from Miami to Las Vegas, where they operated a marijuana-grow operation in 2009, authorities said.
The same vehicle also ultimately led Metro Police to 29-year-old Leandro Lopez-Turatiz, who is now in custody in Las Vegas, accused in the slaying five years ago of his alleged partner in the marijuana business, Francisco Lambert-Cordero.
Lopez-Turatiz, 29, was booked Thursday into the Clark County Detention Center.
Metro Police said their investigation revealed Lopez-Turatiz shot and killed Lambert-Cordero, then 23, in mid-May 2009 at the Las Vegas house where the two ran their operation.
Lopez-Turatiz moved the body from the house, dumped it in the desert west of Las Vegas and covered it with pine boughs, police allege.
Police today released no details about Lopez-Turatiz’s arrest but said he had fled to Canada “after several years of a legal process … (and) was finally extradited back to America.”
A December 2009 Metro warrant declaration released today details the case against Lopez-Turatiz:
On May 21, 2009, a body covered with pine boughs was discovered near a fire access road on State Route 160, west of Las Vegas. The body had been placed there within 48 hours of the discovery, detectives determined.
After an autopsy, the cause of death was ruled a homicide from a single gunshot to the head. With the aid of fingerprints obtained by the U.S. Border Patrol, Metro identified the victim as Lambert-Cordero.
Lambert-Cordero and Lopez-Turatiz arrived in the United States on New Year’s Day 2007 as refugees from their native Cuba. Both began living in Miami.
After Lambert-Cordero’s death, Metro contacted his uncle in Miami. The uncle told detectives that Lambert-Cordero had moved to Las Vegas with Lopez-Turtatiz six months earlier.
Just before they left Miami, the uncle said, Lambert-Cordero and Lopez-Turtatiz had purchased a car.
Metro detectives learned the car was a 2001 white Mercedes purchased for $13,000 in cash. The Mercedes was titled in the name of a third Cuban refugee, who lived in Las Vegas.
The link led police to the marijuana operation in Las Vegas and ultimately to Lopez-Turtatiz.
Metro traced the car’s owner to a house in the 4400 block of Collingwood Street, where police served a warrant. Detectives learned the occupants of the house had recently changed, but they discovered an “advanced marijuana cultivation operation” in two of the upstairs bedrooms.
They also found traces of blood throughout the house and bloody fingerprints in the garage. DNA tests showed the blood belonged to Lambert-Cordero.
Detectives also found and interviewed the Las Vegas man whose name was on the title of the Mercedes.
He told police Lopez-Turatiz, an acquaintance, had flown him in late 2008 to Miami to purchase the Mercedes. The Las Vegan had a required valid driver’s license; something neither Lopez-Turatiz nor Lambert-Cordero possessed.
The three then drove to Las Vegas, where Lopez-Turatiz and Lambert-Cordero moved into the Collingwood Street rental home, which also had been leased in the third Cuban refugee’s name.
Once the home was leased, Lopez-Turatiz and Lambert-Cordero disassociated themselves from the Las Vegan — until May 21, 2009.
That day, Lopez-Turatiz requested the man disconnect the utilities at the rental home because, he said, Lambert-Cordero had returned to Florida.
Two days later, another man assumed the lease of the rental home. Five days after that, Lopez-Turatiz told the Las Vegas man he wanted to sell the Mercedes.
On July 13, 2009, police happened upon the Mercedes and obtained a warrant to search it. They found two suitcases in the trunk: one with Lambert-Cordero’s personal items; the other with Lopez-Turatiz’s personal items. Police also noted the absence of a trunk liner in the vehicle.
The evidence in sum, police said in the warrant declaration, provided them probable cause to believe Lopez-Turatiz and Lambert-Cordero were jointly involved in the marijuana operation and that they used an unwitting fellow refugee in Las Vegas as a front man.
“For reasons unknown...Lopez-Turatiz shot and killed Lambert-Cordero, transported the body in the aforementioned Mercedes, dumped the body off State Route 160, and covered it with pine boughs in an effort to prevent or delay discovery,” the declaration said.
Further, police allege, Lopez-Turatiz moved out of the Collingwood residence and arranged for another man to occupy the house with the intent of framing him for the grow operation and, possibly, Lambert-Cordero’s death.