A tale of love and greed, extramarital affairs, a private investigator, shadowy federal investigations, and oblique warnings.
By Emily Adams, Daily Breeze
As Jose Antonio Vallejo watched his wife held to answer to felony charges of conspiracy and solicitation of commit murder, it was not entirely relief he felt.
How is a man supposed to feel, watching his wife of 28 years, the mother of his four children, sitting there in jailhouse blues, accused of trying to hire someone to kill him?
“I’m sure justice will be done, but…” his voice sags before gathering together again to relate the beginning of the story.
Only the beginning keeps starting further back in time, the story acquiring more layers of complexity until it is like watching a shipwreck from under water.
And that is the story that’s been told over a stop-and-go preliminary hearing stretched out over three months before concluding Friday: one of love and greed, extramarital affairs, a private investigator, shadowy federal investigations, and oblique warnings.
From the prosecution’s point of view, the case of Maria Delores “Lola” Vallejo began in late May. That’s when her friend, Patricia Maria Rosales, allegedly told an undercover Compton police officer that she had a friend with a problem husband. And they were in the market for a hit man.
Over a series of meetings with undercover local and federal agents, Rosales allegedly offered $6,000 to the man who would take out Jose “Tony” Vallejo. She supplied a photograph of Vallejo and detailed when he might be leaving a bank with a large cash deposit, said Deputy District Attorney Greta Walker.
On two occasions, Lola Vallejo was in the next room during these meetings, according to court testimony.
But Tony Vallejo is certain that the case begins at least six months before that, however, during a home invasion robbery that has never been solved.
During the months, even years, before the Dec. 3, 1997, robbery at his Ocean Avenue home in Torrance, Tony Vallejo knew his marriage was in trouble. He had an affair. About four years ago, his wife moved out for seven months, he said, but came back to announce a new arrangement.
“She told me I could go get a girlfriend or whatever, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with me,” Tony Vallejo said.
The Vallejo’s, both 45, had four children, ranging from their teens to mid-20’s. Tony Vallejo had a successful string of carnecerias in the South Bay and Harbor Area; he had been the honorary mayor of Wilmington. He was a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, active in the community.
Neither Vallejo was ready for a divorce.
So Tony Vallejo found a girlfriend. Then he helped the 23-year-old woman get an apartment in Rancho Palos Verdes and bought her a car. And things at home got progressively worse.
Feeling that his wife’s spending was out of control, Tony Vallejo confronted her on Dec. 1, 1997, telling her he had canceled her credit cards.
The next day, he had noticed that Lola Vallejo had moved her jewelry box out of his bedroom. Where it had been for over a decade, he said.
The day after that, he awoke to two men beating him with their fists and something harder, and trying to tie him up at the same time.
“I remembered that my oldest son was asleep downstairs. I started yelling to him, ‘Joey! Joey!’ I wanted to scare these guys into thinking someone else was there,” Vallejo said.
The men growled at him, telling Vallejo, “This is so you don’t get involved with my cousin.”
But Vallejo knew, he said, that it was never about his girlfriend. When the men took off, and he could finally make it down the stairs, he saw his wife sitting in the entry, a stocking loosely tied around her mouth, but otherwise unhurt.
“She was waiting for me to see that stocking. She could have taken it off with one finger,” Vallejo said.
To the police, Lola Vallejo said that three men had attacked her as she unlocked the front door, forcing her inside and down onto the ground and taking $450 from her purse. One man held a knife to her neck while the other two ran upstairs and attacked her husband.
When the couple was interviewed the following day at the Torrance police station, separately, Tony Vallejo told the detective his suspicions, he said.
The detective “told me to go with my wife and leave my girlfriend. I told him I really thought my wife did it, and he went and talked to her. He said that he gave her a voice stress test (a rudimentary form of polygraph, unaccepted in the court) and she passed it,” Vallejo said.
Two days later, Vallejo hired private investigator Al Adams Moreno. Within four weeks, Moreno had a report, two suspects, 11 witnesses and some very serious charges.
Moreno believes, firmly, that he handed over to Torrance detectives everything they needed to arrest Lola Vallejo and a friend — not Rosales — on conspiracy and attempted murder charges. He didn’t have the guys responsible for the home invasion robbery but felt certain that Lola Vallejo could be charged with trying to kill her husband’s girlfriend in separate incidents.
But much of the evidence against Lola Vallejo came in the form of witness statements from her in-laws. They said that Lola Vallejo complained about the girlfriend and wanted help in killing her. And Lola Vallejo’s friend was certainly involved, Moreno concluded, because she failed a three-question polygraph examination.
In his report,Moreno also detailed the testimony of other, more neutral, witnesses who told similar stories. In late December, Moreno took his report to Torrance detective Jim Wallace expecting a full hearing, even a closure to the case.
“I had a sit-down with him (Wallace) that I thought would last at least a half-hour. It didn’t last more than five or six minutes. He didn’t even read the report,” Moreno said.
The private investigator tried hard to make his case, telling Wallace, “I really think she’s gonna whack Tony. And some time in the next six months.”
Wallace could not be reached for comment on this story, but the case went nowhere. Tony Vallejo moved into his girlfriend’s apartment and continued paying his wife’s bills, he said.
And then in early June, a sheriff’s deputy called Vallejo. Sitting in the deputy’s office, Tony Vallejo listened with disbelief as the deputy told him that someone was trying to kill him.
The sheriff’s deputy said: Change your routine, don’t do the things you normally do. According to the deputy’s informant, the bad guys didn’t have Vallejo’s address. But if deputies heard they got the address, they would come and take Vallejo out of there, the deputy said.
The next ten days passed like a bad dream. Vallejo’s contact in the Sheriff’s Department broke his leg and suddenly disappeared. Tony Vallejo was like a blind man and frightened.
And then an undercover Compton police officer — who will not be named for his protection — called Vallejo to confirm his worst fears. He showed Vallejo a picture that was intended for the hit men, to help identify the target. The officer asked for Vallejo’s help.
So the next day, June 12, Vallejo went to his old house on Ocean Avenue and puttered around, changing light bulbs, while his wife went for a swim. He left the front door open for police.
Lola Vallejo was happy that day, singing and dancing in the backyard, “Like she was celebrating,” Tony Vallejo said. Finally, the police arrived and arrested her as she got out of the shower.
At the station, Lola Vallejo waived her Miranda rights and spoke to Compton police officer Eduardo Aguirre, according to court testimony. Her statement was tape recorded but never played in open court.
That statement was hotly contested by defense attorneys who indicated that Lola Vallejo — a native Spanish speaker — might not have understood her rights.
Questioned closely by Rosales’ lawyer, famed defense attorney Robert Shapiro, Aguirre insisted that Vallejo’s rights had been explained to her in Spanish.
And then, in a moment that illustrates the tension in this case, Shapiro suddenly switched the subject, asking Aguirre, “Isn’t it true, officer Aguirre, that your mother had a sexual relationship with Mr. Rosales?”
The Compton Municipal Courtroom erupted like courtrooms only erupt on television, until Judge Irma Brown grabbed her gavel and called attorney’s to sidebar.
Shapiro apparently didn’t have enough evidence — or, perhaps any — to offer for his assertion, and the line of questioning was discontinued. Aguirre shot Shapiro hot looks as he left the witness stand.
audio tapes, made during meetings between the undercover officers and Patricia Rosales, were not played in court either, although these tapes will likely be the centerpiece of the Superior Court case.
The identity of a confidential informant, who was somehow connected to both a secret FBI investigation and the Compton undercover operation, is also shaping up to be a bitter fight — with defense attorneys demanding his presence in court while prosecutors try to shield him.
And on the sideline, when the case comes back to Compton Superior Court for arraignment Feb. 5, will be Tony Vallejo looking at his wife.
“I think she stopped loving me a long time ago,” Vallejo said. “I don’t know. In the end, maybe it was just greed. Since we weren’t getting along, she didn’t want anyone else to enjoy what I had worked for.”