Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Drugs, guns, wigs found at home of man charged in Turnpike slaying case

WEST PALM BEACH — Guns. Drugs. Money.

Prosecutors say these three things were the cornerstones of Danny Varela's empire, stashed throught his bedroom in the West Palm Beach home that was the alleged home base for a drug ring that eventually claimed the lives of a young family.

Varela looked on expressionless this morning in the federal courthouse as Palm Beach County sheriff's crime scene analyst Angela Culpepper led jurors through his bedroom at 6458 Garden Court, where investigators uncovered not only drugs, guns and live ammunition, but also black ski masks, gloves, wigs and handcuffs.

Varela is not charged in the deaths of his alleged drug associate Jose Luis Escobedo and Escobedo's family, but prosecutors say he and three others, Liana Lee Lopez, Ricardo Sanchez and Daniel Troya, engaged in a conspiracy to possess and distribute large quantities of cocaine.

A trial against the four began last week. Sanchez and Troya face the death penalty if convicted on charges related to the deaths of Escobedo, 28, his wife Yessica, 25, and their 4 and 3-year-old sons Luis Julian and Luis Damian.

The family wasfound slain October 13, 2006 along Florida's Turnpike south of Fort Pierce. Earlier this morning, Varela's childhood friend David Doran told jurors he, Varela and others spent the night of the Escobedo murders hanging out at bars and at Varela's house.

Doran testified he never saw Troya or Sancez throughout the night, but as he, his brother and brother-in-law were leaving the house between 4:30 and 5 a.m., he saw a maroon conversion van driving into Varela's gated community followed by a dark-colored SUV.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton has previously shown jurors surveillance footage from Turnpike toll booths showing the conversion van getting on and off the highway immediatly followed both times by the Escobedos' Jeep Cherokee.

A fingerprint expert testified last week that Sanchez and Troya's fingerprints were on toll receipts that investigators say correspond with toll booth footage recorded when the cars exited the Turnpike after the Escobedos were shot to death.

Varela's friend Doran testified before a grand jury that he met Jose Luis Escobedo, known in the group as "Lou," from Varela in the summer of 2006 as a friend who had recently moved to Florida from Texas.

Doran, a paremedic, also testified about having to nurse a wound to Escobedo's head sometime over the summer, when the man told him he had been hit in the head.

Investigators say Escobedo worked as a connection for the transport of drugs from Mexico to Florida through Texas and was murdered to erase a drug debt.

Doran told a grand jury he thought the SUV following the van early that morning after the murders could have been the same make and model as Escobedo's Jeep, but this morning he said he wasn't sure what kind of car it was.

Jurors this morning also heard testimony from Chris Bly, a former Lake Worth car salesman who testified he sold the maroon conversion van at the center of the case.

Bly testified that although another man, Michael Naujalis, purchased the car in his name, it was Varela who testdrove the car, gave naujalis the money for the down payment and drove it away from the dealership.

This afternoon will bring more testimony from Culpepper, who is expected to continue laying out the items found in Varela's home after authorities surrounded the house and arrested the four and another man, Juan Gutierrez, before executing a search warrant.

The trial is expected to last through next month.

(Source : PalmBeachPost.com )

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