The 43-year-old California-born Rivera known as the ‘‘Diva de la Banda’’ died as her career peaked. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, and had branched out into acting and reality television.
Besides being a singer, she appeared in the indie film Filly Brown, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and was filming the third season of ‘‘I love Jenni,’’ which followed her as she shared special moments with her children and as she toured through Mexico and the United States.
The Learjet 25, number N345MC, with Rivera aboard was en route from Monterrey to Toluca, outside Mexico City, when it was reported missing about 10 minutes after takeoff.
Aviation website FlightAware.com shows that the plane flew from Houston to Toluca on August 31 and had not returned to the U.S. since then. Ruiz said Mexican officials are investigating why the U.S. plane was carrying passengers between two Mexican destinations, something that’s against regulation. U.S- registered planes can only fly paying passengers internationally into Mexico. He said the plane’s owner, Starwood Management of Las Vegas, said Rivera was not renting the jet, but was receiving a free flight because Starwood thought it would promote the aircraft, which was for sale.
That would be allowed under Mexican law, Ruiz said.
‘‘The Civil Aviation Department has instructions to investigate this point specifically,’’ he said, adding that he’s also asking other authorities to verify the company’s story about why one of its planes was flying between Mexican destinations.
According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the same plane was substantially damaged in a 2005 landing mishap at Amarillo International Airport in Texas. It hit a runway distance marker after losing directional control. There were four aboard but no injuries. It was registered to a company in Houston, Texas, as the time.
Starwood has been the subject of a lawsuit and investigations, though none so far have centered on the plane that carried Rivera.
Another of its planes was seized in September by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in McAllen, Texas.
A federal lawsuit in Nevada filed by QBE Insurance Corp. alleges that a Starwood aircraft was ordered seized by the DEA when it landed in McAllen, Texas, from Mexico on Sept. 12. The New York-based insurer sued in October to rescind coverage for the Hawker 700 jet.
Starwood, in a court filing, acknowledged that the DEA was involved in the seizure of the aircraft.
QBE, based in New York, said the DEA also seized a Starwood-owned Gulfstream G-1159A — insured by another company — when it landed in Tucson from Mexico in February. Starwood said in its court filing that it didn’t have enough information to address the allegation.
Nevada secretary of state records list only one Starwood officer — Norma Gonzalez — but QBE alleges that the company is owned and managed by Ed Nunez, who, according to the lawsuit, is also known as Christian Esquino and had a long criminal history.
Starwood rejected the insurer’s description of Nunez’s role at the company.
According to QBE’s lawsuit, Esquino pleaded guilty in federal court in Orlando, Florida, in 1993 to conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.
QBE said Esquino also served two years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud involving an aircraft in Southern California in 2004. QBE said Esquino’s attorney stated in court back then that his client had been under investigation by the DEA for more than a year.
Starwood said in its court filing that it didn’t have enough information to address either the Florida or Southern California case against Esquino.
George Crow, an attorney for Starwood, did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left after business hours Monday.
Ibarra reported from Monterrey, Mexico. Joan Lowy in Washington, Raquel Dillon in Los Angeles and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report. Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this report from Mexico City.