Image default
Crime & Courts

Witness Tampering, Love Triangle Dominate Day Four Of Greg Leon’s Murder Trial

Undercover informant takes the stand …

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

South Carolina eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard opened the fourth day of the murder trial of accused killer Gregorio M. Leon by calling Lexington, S.C. police department sergeant Brian Swolak to the stand. The veteran officer – who helped investigate the murder of 28 year-old Arturo Bravo – testified Bravo wasn’t involved in any criminal activity outside of presenting false identification.

This is a key component of the prosecution’s case, as Leon’s attorneys previously argued Bravo was a “violent gang member” with ties to the Las Zetas drug cartel. While not a sure-fire defense, such a characterization of Bravo – if true – would help explain Leon’s decision to shoot him upon discovering him in the back of a pickup truck with his wife, Rachel Leon, on Valentine’s Day more than seven years ago.

Was it true, though?

The jury tasked with deciding Leon’s fate heard testimony on Thursday about an elaborate alleged scheme to fool police into thinking it was – promoting an S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) which ultimately led to additional charges against Leon.

SLED senior special agent Philip Turner took the stand after Swolak. Turner was asked by Hubbard’s office to investigate potential witness tampering in the Leon case surrounding an individual named EnriqueRuby” Sierra.

After telling Lexington police she had been asked to lie for Leon, Sierra was called to SLED headquarters on Bush River Road in Columbia, S.C. where she was interviewed by agents. During this interview, Sierra provided the name and contact information for Maria Moreno – who is employed by Leon. According to Sierra, Moreno asked her to falsify testimony on Leon’s behalf.

Sierra agreed at this meeting to act as a confidential informant for SLED – and to wear a wire to a meeting with Moreno.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

SLED agents outfitted Sierra with a wire, and positioned themselves in vehicles outside the Real Mexican Restaurant, where the meeting with Moreno was set to occur.

“At the moment we were fact finding,” Turner explained to jurors, saying their mission was simply to “see what was real and what was not real.”

What they found was sufficiently “real” to keep digging.

“Based on the information we received from this conversation we decided to continue the investigation,” Turner testified.

Moreno, of her own volition, contacted Sierra again months later. On February 2, 2022, SLED agents met with Sierra who told them Moreno asked her “to meet with an attorney,” and was “telling Ruby what to say in her statement.”

SLED agents wanted to catch Moreno giving these illegal instructions on tape – so they asked Sierra to wear a wire again.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Sierra called Moreno to arranged the details of the meet-up. Moreno suggested the two should meet up in the parking lot of one of Leon’s attorneys, Eric Bland. The pair stayed there for less than a minute, though, with Moreno instructing Sierra to follow her.

The two ended up traveling a few blocks away to the law offices of S.C. senator Dick Harpootlian, another of Leon’s attorneys.

“We didn’t know where we were going … but we went to Dick Harpootlian’s office,” Turner said.

The pair conversed extensively in the parking lot of Harpootlian’s office. Solicitor Hubbard made it clear that no attorneys were present during this conversation.

“Unbeknownst to us” SLED’s recording device had failed after the pair left Harpootlian’s office.

Fortunately, evidence of the conversation in Harpootlian’s parking lot was preserved. The recording was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for translation, and a copy of the transcript of the recording was offered into evidence.

This 16-page transcript revealed Moreno was holding the expedited processing of immigration paperwork over Sierra’s head – and attempting to bribe her – imploring her to say that “(Bravo) was a man that was always armed” and that he “watched child pornography.” “

“This is for Goyo,” Moreno told Sierra, referring to a nickname for Leon.

Support FITSNews … SUBSCRIBE!

***

Leon, a business owner, could leverage employer status to help the two women with the visa process. This wouldn’t be out of the question, either, given Leon’s prior guilty plea for “engaging in a pattern and practice of hiring illegal aliens.”

Moreno instructed Sierra to tell attorneys that Bravo forced her to watch child pornography while he raped her with a gun in her mouth, and that Bravo was involved in smuggling drugs over the border in connection with the violent Mexican “Tigres” gang.

The transcript, rife with unintelligible portions, included references to a little girl in North Carolina that Turner testified under oath he still did not completely understand. The transcript also contained repeated references to “Goyo” as the pair discussed the possibility of a trial. Moreno said the case was closed, that there wouldn’t be a trial and that the false statements about Bravo were for “a report that they need.”

“Do you want papers, or do you want the money?” Moreno asked Sierra.

“The money,” Sierra replied.

Moreno assured her “Goyo” was a “good person” and that Sierra would soon meet him.

“Look if you help him you will never have to show up to anything again, I will find another person to help him later,” she promised. “Do not forget, this is very important … (say) he raped you with a gun in your mouth, so you can resolve your papers, he will give you the money too.”

Moreno then received a call from Leon, and proceeded to pass the phone to Sierra so she could speak with him. Leon told Sierra her story should not be “too exaggerated” when she communicated with the attorneys. On a tape recording played for jurors, Leon said he couldn’t guarantee anything “but you and Moreno can apply for a B visa when this is done.”

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

“There is not going to be a trial” Leon (above) re-affirmed. “They simply want that information to have it on file.”

Moreno asked Leon if a cash transfer could be arranged because “Ruby is broke.” Leon responded that something could be arranged. A later statement by Moreno showed she didn’t doubt Leon would hold up his end of the bargain.

“When Goyo tells you, no worries,” she said. “I love Goyo like a father, when Goyo tells you, the money is there.”

Moreno ran through the details one last time, with Sierra responding “that is a lie” as she finished.

Moreno chuckled before reminding her it must be made very clear Bravo intended to kill Leon, and that he “always had a weapon in his car.”

The two women then prepared to pass off the lie.

“It this his lawyer’s place?” Sierra asked.

“No this is immigration,” Moreno replied.

Moreno told Sierra she needed to portray fear on her face – and make it clear Bravo was “the scum of the Earth” and that Leon did a good thing by killing him.

The pair then went into the office. Hubbard and Turner failed to clarify to whom the statements were made, but according to Turner, a translation of the recording showed the story had been passed along.

The pair then left the law firm and headed to the San Jose restaurant in Lexington, S.C. to see Leon.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

At the restaurant, SLED agents – still conducting their undercover operation – saw Leon’s black Cadillac parked behind the building. After a conversation inside of the restaurant, Sierra left with $500 – which Hubbard produced and laid out along the edge of the jury box in dramatic fashion.

After lunch, defense attorney Jack Swerling cross examined Turner. Swerling began by emphasizing the fact that the alleged tampering happened six years after the homicide – then asked if Turner knew specially when Moreno began and ended her employment with Leon.

SLED hasn’t established this exact timeframe.

Swerling next asked if Turner was aware Sierra had received a phone call from a person named Ricardo in Mexico who was looking for information on Leon – claiming the call was made to garner information necessary to get “retribution for Bravo’s death.”

“None of this was ever substantiated,” Turner responded.

Swerling’s question asked specifically if Turner was “aware of the fact” the call was made. The two tussled over the fact Turner was aware a call was reported. “I’m not trying to mislead you” Swerling said, asking Turner if the lie was ever intended to be used in a court of law. Turner said the statement was made “to Leon’s attorneys.”

Swerling also made it clear most of the lies Sierra was asked to tell came from Moreno’s mouth – not his client’s.

“There’s nothing here in the transcript where Leon tells her to say this,” Swerling (below) said. “There’s no indication Greg Leon did that.”

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

“Well, I mean he’s on the phone call,” Turner replied.

Prosecutor Suzanne Mayes then called GPS data custodian Erica Ricard, who admitted into evidence records that showed Leon using the GPS app in his San Jose restaurant prior to the shooting.

Mayes’ next witness – the woman who wore the wire – took the rest of the day.

Sierra, a transgender woman, has been in the United States for 23 years and has worked in pastry shops and restaurants since her arrival. Sierra testified she has identified as a woman for the entirety of her life.

Sierra lived with Bravo from 2012 until his death at a house in Richland County where the two had separate rooms.

“Did you ever know Arturo to have a gun?” Mayes asked.

“No,” Sierra replied.

When asked to describe Bravo, she said he was “normal like any person, like any of us, very happy friendly and charming, smiling and singing.”

Sierra said she helped Bravo pick out the Valentine’s Day gift he gave Rachel Leon – and said she knew instinctively Bravo had been killed that night when she heard the initial news reports of a man shot dead in Lexington.

Sierra contacted Lexington police, establishing a relationship with investigators. Months later, Sierra was contacted by Moreno. In May, 2016, Moreno “started hanging around” Sierra’s pastry shop, eventually broaching the prospect of lying about Arturo. “I believed her” when she said the case wasn’t going to trial, Sierra told the jury through a translator.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Whatever she believed, Sierra recognized the situation was serious enough to contact law enforcement – which eventually led to her voluntary participation in the initial SLED undercover operation.

When Moreno later visited Sierra’s home, Sierra made SLED aware – setting in motion the investigators’ second undercover operation.

Sierra said that in her phone conversation with Leon she “just wanted to confirm that I had to do all of the things they told me to do, say all the lies they told me to say.”

Moreno “asked me to make up that Arturo was in a gang,” she said.

After the meeting in Harpootlian’s office, Sierra recounted sitting down with Leon at his restaurant, and Leon returning with the cash she subsequently tendered to her SLED handlers.

Sierra told jurors she received a call from a Mexican area code from a man named Ricardo, a stranger, who told her he was affiliated with the Zetas gang and that he was going to get vengeance for Bravo’s slaying. She also testified that Moreno told her calls from Mexico “would keep coming.”

Sierra revealed she and Bravo had previously been more than just friends – and that their relationship was at one time “romantic.”

Bravo never “judged her as a person” and always “treated me very well,” she said.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

Swerling’s cross examination began with a discussion of Bravo’s illegal immigrant status, but quickly moved on to Bravo’s relationship with Sierra.

“So on February 14, 2016, you were still in a romantic relationship, right?” Swerling asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

Sierra also responded affirmatively when Swerling asked her if she still loved Bravo to this day.

Sierra said she was aware of Bravo’s relationship with Rachel Leon, and that she was aware the couple had sex in her home.

“Because I was almost always back late from the bakery, it was hard for me to know what was going on in my house,” she explained to Swerling.

Swerling asked if Sierra ever told Bravo not to bring Rachel Leon around. Sierra responded that the purchase of the truck caused a fight – one which caused her to threaten to leave – and that the two were set to discuss her departure on the night Bravo was killed.

Sierra said Bravo knew Rachel was married, saying “if she (Rachel) didn’t care … he didn’t care less.”

“She was more or less a sugar mamma?” Swerling asked pointedly.

“I don’t know that he was getting money from her, but I know he was getting gifts,” Sierra replied.

Rachel Leon wasn’t the only one who had this type of relationship with Bravo.

“You testified previously that other women gave him gifts for pleasure, sexual pleasure … are you familiar with the word gigilo?” Swerling asked.

(Click to view)

(Via: Dylan Nolan-FITSNews)

“He was getting a lot of texts on his Facebook, but I don’t really know how many of the women he went out with,” she responded.

Swerling asked a battery of questions about Bravo’s use of aliases, revealing that one was a Mexican consulate ID, and another impersonated Bravo’s grandfather. Once again, Swerling emphasized the length of time that elapsed between the shooting and the undercover operation – asking if Moreno had proposed her testifying in the four years between the shooting and her contacting law enforcement in 2019.

“As long as no trial was coming she never approached me, but as soon as a new trial was coming she would approach me,” Sierra replied.

Swerling capitalized on a lapse in the investigation, too. According to Sierra, she recorded all of Moreno’s demands in a notebook – one investigators were made aware of but never obtained.

Sierra explained she didn’t know what happened to the notebook because after years of being told the same story by Moreno, she “knew it by heart.”

Another investigatory failure – one related to the aforementioned “girl in North Carolina” – came up on cross. Sierra took umbrage with Swerling’s use of the word “girl” – saying the individual in question was seventeen years old and “her mother approved.”

“So he was having sexual relations with her?” Swerling asked. “You agree she was a minor?”

Sierra told Swerling the age of consent was sixteen, and that the relationship with the then-23-year-old Bravo was legal.

“So he was dating married women, and was having sexual relations with not only Ruby, but a minor,” Swerling’s baritone voice boomed.

Swerling’s voice was by now full of emotion, it was clear he intended to end his cross with a crescendo.

“How does one know when you’re telling the truth!?!” he bellowed.

Sierra smiled, telling Swerling that when she lied at Harpootlian’s office, she did so to fulfill her role in the investigation.

While Swerling’s cross raised many questions about Bravo, it failed to tarnish Sierra – or the audio tape of his client eliciting false testimony. That means Swerling will have his work cut out for him once the state rests and he begins to lay out Leon’s defense – likely early next week.

Stay tuned to this news outlet for additional in-depth coverage of the Greg Leon murder trial as it heads into its fifth day on Friday, June 22, 2023

***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

dsc02010-1024x576.jpg

Dylan Nolan is a journalist and video producer for FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore School of Business with a bachelors in Accounting in 2021, and has spent his professional career attempting to shine light on corruption and institutional failure in South Carolina through his journalism. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.

***

WANNA SOUND OFF?

Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.

***

Get our newsletter by clicking here …

*****

Related posts

Crime & Courts

Missing South Carolina Woman Found in Australia

Andrew Fancher
Crime & Courts

Six Arrested, One Sought In Midlands Apartment Shooting

Andrew Fancher
Crime & Courts

Is Mismanagement Putting Hampton County’s Safety At Risk?

Jenn Wood

2 comments

Carla Golden Top fan June 23, 2023 at 11:34 am

Excellent coverage Dylan. Very detailed!

Reply
BES June 27, 2023 at 12:36 am

Why are you referring to a man (Enrique Sierra) as “she”? He is man…can pretend to be a woman, but he is NOT.

Reply

Leave a Comment