Prosecutor in Puerto Rico Says She Was Told in 2019 to Stop Investigating Kevin Fret Murder
For nearly four years, the deadly shooting of trap artist Kevin Fret has remained an unsolved and salacious mystery that cast a pall over the Latin music scene in Puerto Rico.
After Fret, 24, was shot twice on Jan. 10, 2019, while riding a scooter in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, his mother Hilda Rodriguez publicly accused reggaeton star Ozuna and his manager of ordering the death of her son, charges they have denied and that have not been proven.
Now the prosecutor who was assigned to the investigation, Betzaida Quiñones, says that unbeknownst to Fret’s family and the public, only three months after she began her probe, she was told by superiors to shut it down. In April of 2019, she was interviewing a witness, whom she did not name, when she received a phone call from a superior with a message: “From that point on I was not going to continue interviewing that person,” she said Tuesday on WAPA-TV’s Cuarto Poder. The investigation was at its “peak,” she said, “and I was never given an explanation.”
Quiñones’ public statements over the past week, made in a series of television interviews in Puerto Rico, have called the murder investigation into question, raised concerns about undue influence from the rich and powerful and added to questions about Wanda Vázquez, the former attorney general and ex-governor, who was Quiñones’ ultimate boss.
In statements to the media, Quiñones has said that Vázquez and Olga Castellón, the head of the criminal unit in 2019, were involved in the alleged freezing of the investigation.
Public officials, including the island territory’s governor and its current attorney general, Domingo Emanuelli, have promised to investigate the claims. On Thursday (Nov. 3), Emanuelli said that after reviewing “reports and documents related to the case” that he was referring the matter to the division of Public Integrity and Comptroller Affairs for further review.
“These are serious allegations that should be examined in greater detail in accordance with laws and regulations,” the attorney general said in a statement on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Emanuelli said “there should be no doubt that if evidence of any improper intervention arises it will be investigated, no matter who the person is. We are not going to put the integrity of the Department of Justice and its officials at risk for anything or anyone.”
Ignacio Fernández, an attorney for Vázquez, defended the former governor. “It’s an absolute lie,” Fernández tells Billboard. “Why did [Quiñones] wait three years? She had an obligation to come forward at that time. If she doesn’t have the moral rectitude to not bend to powerful people, then that is on her.”
Fernández also defended Castellón, saying “there is no way that Olga would agree to anything like that. She would investigate her own mom if she had to.” (A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department in San Juan, where Castellón is an assistant U.S. Attorney, had no comment.)
Quiñones’ claims that higher-ups influenced the investigation have also renewed concerns about the San Juan police department’s handling of the murder probe. A police spokesperson tells Billboard that the case was transferred this September from the homicide division to its Major Crimes division that deals with cases of “high complexity.”
One of the homicide officers originally involved in questioning witnesses, Tito Rivera Hernández, took a selfie with Ozuna at the police station in February of 2019 following a police interview with the Latin star, which Rivera Hernández later posted on his social media accounts.
Col. Roberto Rivera, the head of the investigative branch of the Police Bureau, said this week that his office had filed an administrative complaint against the officer related to his handling of the probe and had put him on leave pending results of the review. Rivera Hernández, who is currently working with a team of federal agents, would be reassigned to another police division if the federal team does not keep him on, according to El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican news outlet.
The colonel said that until this October no other agent had investigated the Fret case and that the time Rivera Hernández dedicated to the murder probe “was not extensive” and “not what one expects from such an investigation.” (Rivera Hernández could not be reached for comment.)
Quiñones’ allegations also add to the scrutiny on Vázquez, who was Puerto Rico’s attorney general from 2017 to 2019 and then governor of the island in 2019 to 2021. In August, the Department of Justice arrested her and charged her with bribery and conspiracy in an alleged scheme to finance her 2020 campaign. (She has plead not guilty and expects to go to trial.)
Persons of Interest
In April of 2019, police officials told Billboard that investigators were searching for “two male persons of interest” and were “using every resource at [their] disposal to find these persons,” as well as following up on anonymous tips.
That April, Quiñones interviewed Vicente Saavedra, who is president of promotion and marketing agency Dímelo Vi, as well as Ozuna’s manager, for more than three hours. She also had planned to interview reggaeton and trap singer Arcangel.
But just days later, she said this week, she received a phone call from a superior telling her to shut down the probe. “I had a list of possible suspects, which was communicated at one point to the chief prosecutor [Castellón],” Quiñones said on Cuarto Poder. “It was a list of the possible people who could have participated in Kevin’s murder.” She added that, “obviously, [Fret] was active at that time in the musical world, which was what he wanted to pursue.”
After his meeting with the prosecutor, Saavedra said the prosecutor’s questions focused only on allegations that Fret had extorted money from Ozuna over a pornographic video that Ozuna had appeared in when he was a minor. Saavedra said he was not asked about Fret’s murder and that Quiñones told him he was not a person of interest in the case. (Quiñones said publicly in January of 2019 that she was not investigating Ozuna for the slaying. A police spokesperson this week would not tell Billboard if Ozuna was a person of interest in the case because the probe is ongoing.)
Nevertheless, Rodriguez, Fret’s mother, who lives in Massachusetts, has been insistent that Ozuna and Saavedra were somehow involved. “I know that it was [Ozuna] who ordered my son to be killed, together with Vicente Saavedra,” Rodriguez said in a TV interview in April of 2019. She alleged that Ozuna and Fret, who billed himself as the first gay trap Latin singer, had engaged in an “intimate relationship.” She said she had turned over text messages of conversations between the two artists to law-enforcement officials.
Ozuna’s attorney, Antonio Sagardía, told Billboard this week that Ozuna was only questioned about an alleged extortion scheme by Fret — not about the murder itself. He was not asked back for a second interview, the lawyer said. The controversy involving the alleged freezing of the investigation “has nothing to do with Ozuna,” Sagardía said. “That’s an internal matter with the Department of Justice.” (Sagardía has said his client had “nothing to do” with Fret’s murder.)
Rodriguez has denied that her son had engaged in extortion. After Fret found a link to Ozuna’s pornographic video, “the only thing Kevin asked of him was to help him sing as a featured artist on a song,” she said. According to Rodriguez, “Ozuna said, ‘No, I’m going to give you money and I want you to send me the link so that I can erase the video.” But she added that her son wasn’t the only person that had the video. Rodriguez claimed that her son did not want Ozuna’s money and that he would never have made the video public.
Fret’s mother said that Ozuna gave her son almost $400,000. Both Ozuna and Sagardía have said that at least one payment was made to Fret, but the lawyer put the amount at “close to $50,000.”
Almost two weeks after Fret’s death, a portion of the video in question, which depicted a teenaged Ozuna masturbating, was leaked to the internet and quickly went viral. That same day, Jan. 23, 2019, the artist apologized to his family and fans via a prepared statement, which also said he had been the victim of an alleged extortion plot hatched by Fret.
After she was told to stop questioning witnesses in early April of 2019, Quiñones says she asked for both verbal and written explanations, writing a memo to the Department of Justice asking why it was being held up. “None of my memos that I sent to the Department of Justice were ever answered,” she said on Cuarto Poder.
The recent move by the police to move the case to the Major Crimes unit, the prosecutor says, “opens another window for a full investigation.” And while significant time has passed since the slaying occurred and the evidence was fresh, she says she hasn’t “lost faith” that “eventually we will know the truth of what happened.”