LAS VEGAS - Frustrated in efforts to extricate an heir of the du Pont fortune from a drug-riddled relationship, a murder-for-hire plot was hatched to eliminate the 45-year-old woman who was the problem, a prosecutor said Monday.
''Operation Dean'' was initiated in July 1998 in an effort to coax Dean MacGuigan to get a divorce from a wife who was draining his trust fund and to end his relationship with Patricia Margello, a prosecutor said. Failing in the effort, MacGuigan's stepfather, Christopher Moseley, contracted to have Margello killed, the government contends.
MacGuigan is the son of Lisa Dean Moseley, a direct descendant of the founder of DuPont Co.
Her husband, Christopher Moseley, 59, of Centerville, Del., pleaded guilty last month to charges he paid $15,000 for the murder of his stepson's girlfriend.
The prosecution presented its case in an opening statement Monday in the trial of Ricardo Murillo, who is charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce to commit murder for hire.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Ko traced for jurors an odyssey to Las Vegas he said Christopher Moseley made to try to break up MacGuigan's relationship with Margello.
When persuasion failed, Ko said, Moseley opted for a murder-for-hire plot, turning to a Las Vegas woman whom a defense attorney described as a former porn movie figure.
The woman, Diana Hironaga, 41, was indicted along with Moseley and Murillo in September 1998 in the death of Margello, whose body was found stuffed in an air conditioning duct at a small motel.
Hironaga and Moseley have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in Margello's death and have agreed to cooperate with authorities in hopes of receiving lighter sentences.
A jury was selected in the Murillo trial Monday morning, with opening statements in the afternoon. Judge Justin Quackenbush said the trial could last two weeks or longer.
According to Moseley's plea agreement, he met with Hironaga, Murillo and Joseph Balignasa at a Las Vegas motel in July 1998 and told them ''in substance that if all else fails, it may be necessary to kill MacGuigan's girlfriend.''
At the end of the month, according to the document, Moseley arranged for Margello to return to Philadelphia, but she refused to leave Las Vegas.
Assistant Public Defender Arthur Allen, in his opening statement, described Margello as ''a beautiful young woman who lived in South Philadelphia,'' who ''grew up fast, got into drugs and prostitution.''
He said the government would produce ''liars and murderers'' in their effort to make a case that Murillo killed her.
''That's what this case is all about, death, deceit and deals.''
Despite his wealth, Allen said MacGuigan was ''a drug user who enjoyed the seedier side of life.''
The defense attorney said Moseley was protective of his wife ''and protective of the assets of the du Pont family.''
''Patricia Margello, wracked by drugs, was going to be part of that family,'' Allen said.
In a plea agreement last month, Moseley said he told Hironaga ''in substance to go ahead with the plan to kill Margello.''
Hironaga admitted luring Margello into a meeting on Aug. 1 with Murillo and, later, Balignasa. During the early morning of Aug. 2, according to Hironaga's plea agreement, she and Balignasa helped Murillo kill the victim.
Ko said Margello was strangled, her body folded up and tied with a battery jumper cable, then stuffed in an air conditioning duct at the Del Mar Resort Hotel where it was found three days later by a maintenance worker.
According to court documents, Hironaga and Murillo flew to Philadelphia on Aug. 4, and Hironaga received $15,000 from a limousine driver sent by Moseley. She then gave $10,000 to Murillo, according to the documents.
Balignasa, 26, went to trial earlier this year in state court, but a mistrial was declared after jurors consulted a dictionary and a telephone book to try to resolve issues in the case. A second trial has been scheduled for January.
Sentencing for Moseley, who is in custody, has been scheduled for February.