SAN JUAN -- Three former hotel employes who pleaded guilty to arson in the New Year's Eve fire that killed 97 people at the Dupont Plaza Hotel were sentenced in federal court yesterday to prison terms ranging from 75 to 99 years.
Hector Escudero Aponte, 35, a maintenance man charged with igniting a can of cooking fuel to set the fire, was sentenced to two concurrent 99-year terms.
Escudero Aponte also pleaded guilty to one federal count of first-degree murder for the death of Secret Service agent Manuel de Jesus Marrero Otero, 49, who was in the hotel investigating a counterfeiting case when the fire erupted.
Armando Jimenez Rivera, a 29-year-old bartender's assistant, was sentenced to 75 years. Prosecutors said he provided the cooking fuel, then shielded Escudero Aponte from view while the fire was lit.
Jose Francisco Rivera Lopez, a 40-year-old bartender who was accused of inciting the other two to set the fire, also was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
All three defendants also have been charged in commonwealth court with 96 counts of first-degree murder and one count each of arson and conspiracy. Jimenez Rivera and Rivera Lopez pleaded guilty to the reduced charges of 96 counts of second-degree murder, plus arson and conspiracy.
Escudero Aponte is scheduled to go on trial on the commonwealth charges Aug. 24.
No motive has been alleged in the fire, but the Dupont hotel was engaged in a bitter contract dispute with Teamsters Local 901, which had called a strike to begin New Year's Day. All three defendants are members of the union local.
Teamsters officials denied involvement in the blaze, and government investigators have produced no evidence of union involvement.