Isanti Co. homicide appears to have cartel connections, charges detail

The slaying of a man this month near Princeton, Minn. appears to have connections to a drug cartel, criminal complaints filed last week allege.

Witnesses told investigators that, on the morning of Dec.13, three men went to a home in Spencer Brook Township, six miles southeast of Princeton. Investigators say the men were dressed as police and forcefully entered the home. A woman and child, who were in the home, hid from the gunman but heard shots fired. Later, after the suspects had left, the woman discovered the body of the victim, Jose de Jesus Diaz Fernandes.

According to the charges, investigators found rifle and handgun casings in the home and a rifle near the body. Deputies learned from witness statements that one of the suspects was shot by the victim in the fracas.

Investigators ultimately identified four suspects in the shooting: 45-year-old Jerold Downs, 43-year-old Jessie Mateo Rodrigues, 41-year-old Abraham Houle, and 40-year-old Fredy Saavedra Olivar. All four men are now facing charges in the killing.

The criminal charges allege that Olivar hired the other men to stage a robbery to get out of "paying a very large debt to a cartel organization." The house that was robbed was also believed to be a "stash house" with a large amount of cash and methamphetamine inside. According to the charge, deputies learned the victim also may have had ties to the drug trade. Detectives also found a briefcase with $10,000 inside the home.

In interviews with investigators, Olivar denied being involved with the murder, instead blaming "Downs and his ‘goons,'" the charges state. Houle also denied being involved. However, detectives found that Houle had a "very infected" wound that appeared to be from a gunshot. But, Houle claims the wound was from a November car crash. However, the law enforcement agency that investigated that crash said he didn't have that wound when they inspected him.

In interviews with investigators, Downs admitted to being at the home but claimed he didn't know who shot the victim – also claiming that the victim was supposed to be "in" on the robbery.

Finally, Rodrigues told investigators he had an alibi for the night of the murder, telling investigators he was at a bar in Hager, Wisconsin. But, according to the charges, he later admitted that he was in Downs' vehicle after getting back from the bar, but before the robbery. Deputies say Rodrigues said he saw "robbery gear" in the vehicle – and touched one of the masks but turned down an offer to take part in the crime.