FBI seizes last man wanted in murder of former Chilean diplomat

April 24, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. -- The last man sought in the 1976 bombing assassination of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and an aide was arrested yesterday by the FBI as he drove to his landscaping business.

William Gavin, special agent in charge of the FBI's Miami division, said the man, Virgilio Paz-Romero, 39, pushed the button that detonated the high-powered, remote-controlled explosive, killing Mr. Letelier

and Ronni Karpen Moffitt on Sept. 21, 1976, as they rode in a car on Embassy Row in Washington.

"Over the years, we've gotten tips that he was in the Caribbean or South America," Mr. Gavin said. "But he said he's been in the area since 1980."

The arrest came after a viewer of the television show "America's Most Wanted" called U.S. Customs, Mr. Gavin said. The show ran a story Friday night about the 15-year search for Mr. Paz, and the customs service got a call over the weekend

from someone who thought he recognized him.

Mr. Paz was indicted in 1978 on charges of conspiracy to murder a foreign official, unlawful making of destructive devices and unlawful storage of explosives.

"He's been on our fugitive roll for years, and we've been actively searching for him as we have for other fugitives," Mr. Gavin said. "As it happens, sometimes they're right in your own back yard."

Mr. Gavin said Mr. Paz told agents that he has owned Green

Heart Landscaping in the Palm Beach County city of Boynton Beach since 1985 and that he has been in South Florida since 1980. He lived in Lake Worth with his wife and one child, Mr. Gavin said.

Agents arrested him without incident as he drove to his landscaping business in his pickup truck.

"He didn't seem really surprised," Mr. Gavin said. "He said he was glad he didn't have to live as a fugitive any longer."

The bombing severely strained relations between Chile and the United

States for years. It wasn't until last year that President Bush agreed to normalize contact between the two countries, lifting sanctions imposed after the government of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was implicated in the assassination.

Mr. Bush made the decision after newly elected President Patricio Aylwin said that Chile would cooperate fully with the investigation.

Mr. Paz was one of six men wanted in the murders. Three have been convicted, and two were acquitted.

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