Guest Commentary

There are two sides to every story--and here's Sylvia Osete's side, as told by a friend

There are two sides to a story--always. I've read Manuel Osete's side of a story that is not over yet, as told by Keith Rosenblum in the Tucson Weekly ("Debtor's Prison," March 24).

Mr. Osete has been jailed for almost 2 1/2 years in Santa Cruz County for contempt of court and failure to pay a civil judgment as issued by Superior Court in the divorce case with Sylvia Felix Elias. The way Rosenblum goes about telling Mr. Osete's side, the reader might suspect that Mrs. Osete is the devil in disguise. By no means am I implying that the told side is wrong, but I'd certainly assert it is just one side--the husband's side.

Sylvia Felix Elias was born to a well-to-do pioneer founder family of Sonora, Mexico. She was just 21 years old when she married Manuel Osete, a hard-working, successful business man who barely finished secondary school. For many years, the Osetes were the exemplary couple in the society circles of Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Ariz. The couple would have been celebrating their 38th anniversary in 1997 when Sylvia filed for divorce--and all hell broke loose.

It was hell mainly for Sylvia. Why? Mr. Osete had the money, the means, the friends, the associations and the connections to circumvent any orders issued by the courts, American or Mexican. In other words, Osete had the power. Sylvia had the anger, the pain and the dignity of a woman whose world fell apart one sad day when she discovered her husband had been having an affair with her first cousin. The cousin had been kept as mistress for more than four years at the time that Sylvia found out. The affair was more than just that; it was a relationship resembling marriage.

Now, that is not a crime. Where do broken vows and broken trust fit in our codes? In the criminal code? Of course not. Mr. Osete is not in jail because he cheated on his wife of 37 years, nor for divorce. He is in jail because he disregarded an order of the courts. A very simple order: Support your wife, and move on.

After Sylvia turned into a woman scorned, Manuel took off to Nogales, Sonora, ignoring entirely the separation proceedings taking place in Santa Cruz County Superior Court that, by virtue of residency, had jurisdiction. He took out from a Nogales, Ariz., bank close to $400,000--property of the marriage--and hid it in Mexico. He set up his residence at the foundry, also property of the marriage. He maintained his lifestyle, albeit with a twist--no wife to nag him, no reproachful looks from his children. He continued the partying with his male friends and new female company. He continued to travel through Mexico and the United States. He kept on working with marriage properties, business as usual. He also kept his promise to Sylvia: "You'll never see a single cent, ever! You'll come back, crawling at my feet, begging." She hasn't, yet.

Sylvia, on the other hand, became the pariah within her own circle. She lost friends and relatives. She couldn't keep up the lifestyle she was accustomed to before and during her marriage to Osete. Here's a woman who had never worked, who had no skills or training in anything, except cooking and setting up a nice table, who at age 57 found herself in the need of having to work to support herself because her husband was mad. And work she did, at whatever menial tasks she could get, usually for minimum wages. How good that the U.S. legal system, in a way, is helping her.

Mr. Osete claims that because Sylvia took a bunch of boxes of records, he couldn't prove he was not as well-off as everybody else claimed he was. (Those are boxes that, by the way, were returned to attorney Economidis' office, who represented Manuel back then.) Because he was "helpless," he decided to just ignore the matter. He made a joke out of Superior Court Judge Roberto Montiel and his order, taking the attitude that the judge did not understand him at all. It did not occur to Osete, possibly because he's "naive," that maybe there was some accuracy to the conclusions and decisions of the courts.

Mr. Osete calls himself a victim of his villainous son, Martin, because Martin did not take sides with his father. The son, being aware of his old man's shenanigans, tried to make him come to reason and asked Mr. Osete many times to consider ending his marriage to Sylvia, as the gentleman he always pretended to be, and then make an honorable woman out of the mistress. Instead, without thinking twice, not even considering the damage his actions would inflict on his son, Manuel Osete black-listed his first-born son in Nogales, Sonora, where they did business. It got so bad to the point that Martin couldn't get any work or loans for his construction company, and afterwards not even a job. Martin had to move from the area in order to be able to support his family.

For many months, Osete laughed and laughed at the courts, at the systems, at his children, and at Sylvia. Perhaps all the laughing blurred his vision so that he could not see his fate coming hard to hit him right in the face.

The $1.2 million that Manuel claims Sylvia received in cash and property is something that only exists in his mind. The marital property on the Nogales, Sonora, side is still "tangled up" in the court system. As most of us know, corruption is the name of the game in Mexico. Mr. Osete had--and has--the resources to make that corruption work for him. If he wanted to prevent Sylvia from getting half of the real estate property of the marriage, he could have very easily bought transfers of title to his siblings at any time, or to his buddies.

Mr. Osete seems to be an astute, shrewd, ingenious, almost Machiavellian man. There is no genius, however, in his childlike explanation that the courts in Mexico, after a review of actual expenses, invoices and checks, came up with an assigned $800-a-month as alimony for Sylvia. This makes the $10,000 monthly figure awarded by the Arizona courts baseless and silly. Because Sylvia did not look the other way and refused to become a Stepford Wife, she suffered and endured the conniving gossip and ill-intentioned rumors from the same people with whom she had once wined and dined. According to those rumors, Sylvia liked to get herself $5,000 outfits and more. Which is it then: $800 is total documented expenses, or $5,000 just for one dress? Money is all you need to pay up Mexican court costs and expenses.

To get yourself a voter's ID card in Mexico is not as easy as in the United States. First, you have to prove with a birth certificate or a passport that you're a citizen. After you submit the application for the card, there is a waiting period in which the Instituto Federal Electoral (Mexico's elections administrator) conducts a verification check. If approved, you would need to show proof of residence for at least six months in the area where you applied. Also, you need to provide your picture at the time of application. Manuel Osete bought himself one of these under the name of Antonio Espinoza Suarez, the alias he used to hide assets and property. Antonio Espinoza Suarez owns stock in Mexican corporations incorporated by Osete's loyal manservant and friends. These corporations hold gas stations and real estate. Antonio Espinoza Suarez, according to his Mexican voter ID card, was born and resides in a town near Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, and looks like he could be Manuel Osete's clone. Again, all you need is money.

Sylvia says that regarding the negotiations to settle using the foundry property, appraised at $1.2 million, and offered by the Osete siblings, half is already Sylvia's. The foundry property is being battled in the Mexican courts. If she had accepted the offer, she would have been back to square one. Osete and his all mighty power would have made sure that Sylvia never leased, sold or made use of the property.

There have been instances in which Sylvia has contemplated settling with her former husband, for her children's sake. The daughters, MariCarmen and Pilar, hold title to two properties in Nogales, Sonora. They were willing to sell one of these properties to their father for the bond amount. Their thinking was that everybody would come out a winner with this deal: their father would be out of jail owning a piece of prime property, and their mother would have money to live comfortably. Mr. Osete said no.

Manuel Osete Espinoza de los Monteros is a popular man. His siblings, friends and partners offered to pitch-in money and loan it to him to post bond when it was at $500,000. Osete refused the help. He said the monies would go to Sylvia, and she wouldn't be getting any money from him--even if he had to stay in jail.

Osete says that Sylvia wants revenge. Sylvia has had revenge. He's in jail. She is not. But, what keeps Osete in jail? Hate. Pride. Contempt. Mr. Osete could use his money better, i.e. post bond and get out of jail, instead of wasting it trying to win a lost war. He does have the key to his cell. He just doesn't want to leave. He's home.