Man accused of role in Las Vegas woman's disappearance takes plea deal

·4 min read

Sep. 14—A man accused of aiding in the 2012 abduction and slaying of a young mother in Las Vegas, N.M., has accepted a plea deal in which he has agreed to provide the location of 19-year-old Cindy Rivera's remains, the district attorney in San Miguel County announced Wednesday.

Under the agreement with prosecutors, Anselmo "Chemo" Ortiz, 39, will plead guilty to a count of conspiracy to kidnap Rivera, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said in a news release. If he fails to lead authorities to Rivera's burial site, the agency said, additional charges he faced will be reinstated.

The deal exposes Ortiz to a 10-year sentence. His sentencing hearing is expected to be held in late October, said his defense attorney, Julita Leavell of Albuquerque.

Leavell said Wednesday she approached the case in an "objective way of trying to find closure for everybody that was involved, and that's what I think the plea symbolizes."

"It's not the justice we've sought for all these years," said Cindy Rivera's sister, 32-year-old Angela Rivera, in an interview Wednesday, "but the number one goal was to bring her home. ... We did what we had to do to get her home."

She added, "Chemo gets 10 years. He still gets to get out and live his life and raise his children. My sister never gets that chance again."

Cindy Rivera, a mother of two, disappeared in June 2012 from a home on Peggy Lane in Las Vegas, where she and her mother were live-in caretakers for an ailing man. Police believe she was abducted by her ex-husband, Christopher Trujillo, with help from Ortiz, and then killed by Trujillo, who was the father of one of her children.

Her body was never recovered, and no one was charged in the case for years.

Trujillo and Ortiz fled to California after Rivera's disappearance. Ortiz later was convicted of drug trafficking charges and was imprisoned from 2013 to 2019. After his release, he began working for Trujillo at a towing company in Las Vegas.

Trujillo took his own life in La Cienega in May 2021 after leaving incriminating evidence on his phone, according to an arrest warrant affidavit for Ortiz. In one of the recorded conversations, Trujillo said, "I killed my ex-wife, Cindy Rivera, and buried her in the national forest. I'm going to tell them Chemo killed her and buried her."

Ortiz was arrested in July 2021 and charged with first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit second-degree kidnapping.

A month later he faced new counts of possession of a firearm by a felon, receiving stolen property, transferring a stolen vehicle, criminal damage to property and two misdemeanors in a separate case, according to a criminal complaint filed in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court.

The global plea agreement announced Wednesday incorporates the Santa Fe County case, District Attorney Thomas Clayton said in the news release.

"In exchange for information regarding the recovery of Ms. Rivera, the State agrees to a total 10-year sentence incorporating both cases," the news release said.

Clayton said in a statement, "It is clear that Mr. Ortiz must provide sufficient information for the State Police to recover Ms. Rivera's remains. If Ms. Rivera's remains are not recovered, then the two cases will proceed forward. We ask that the community continue to keep Ms. Rivera's family in your thoughts and prayers."

Leavell expressed some concern, however, that after 10 years the search for Cindy Rivera's remains "might not produce absolutely everything the family is hoping for. But [Ortiz] is hoping that where he is able to point the family to, where he is able to direct the search, that that will bring that closure."

Hearing Ortiz's guilty plea "was everything to me and my family," Angela Rivera said.

"It's like a bittersweet moment," she said. "We get to bring home my sister — that's been the goal since the beginning — but the bitter part is, you know, we don't think he's getting nearly enough time for his part that he played in the murder of her.

"But at least we get to bring her home, give her a proper burial, get some kind of closure."

Her sister's death, the fight her justice and the return of her remains changed the family, Angela Rivera said.

"We've been screaming her name for 10 years. ... I can't even put it into words. Even bringing her home, we're not bringing her home."

She said, "Chris took the coward's way out because he didn't want to face the consequences of what he did, and I feel even now Chemo, he has no remorse. ... We've never so much heard a 'Sorry for everything I put your family through.'

"So, it's like a bittersweet ending, but we get my sister back."