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DA: Shootout suspect's wife hires hit-man to take out witnesses

Published On: Feb 21 2014 05:20:33 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 21 2014 07:37:06 PM EST

Officials say they've uncovered hit man for hire plot


The wife of a man charged in a deadly shooting in Bethlehem is now facing charges of her own.

Sonia Panell's husband, Rene Figueroa, is one of the men charged in the 2012 shoot-out at the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society on East Third Street.

Investigators say that Javier Rivera-Alvarado opened fire on three people outside of the Third Street club. Rene Figueroa then exited the club and shot Morales from behind, killing her, and then shot another man.


Now the Northampton County District Attorney says Panell hired a hit-man to assassinate witnesses who were going to testify against her husband.

"Mrs. Panelll was hiring a person to take care of --quote-- 'the dudes who were going to testify against Rene Figueroa,'" said Northampton Co. District Attorney John Morganelli.

Pannell attempted to hire a hit-man from Ohio to kill three witnesses to her husband's crime.

This alleged hit-man came forward to the FBI in Ohio and helped them catch Pannell.

Prosecutors says the witnesses feared they were being watched and that they might be targets.

"Very early on, we received complaints from our victims, as well as some witnesses, that they thought they were being followed or watched," said deputy district attorney Terence Houck.  "The victims' fears were true and they, in fact, were being stalked for the purpose of killing them."

Prosecutors said the alleged targets were Orialis Figueroa (not related to Rene Figueroa), who was injured in the shootout, as well as his wife ShajuanSher Hungerford, a witness.  A third target, Angel Figueroa, was paralyzed in the melee.  In court papers, the FBI said he was to be targeted arriving for physical therapy in a wheelchair.

Court paperwork indicates that Figueroa might have been involved in the planning of these hits from jail, though prosecutors have not said that charges have or will be filed against him.

Pannell is currently being held in federal prison in Philadelphia.

The murder trial against Figueroa and Javier Rivera-Alvarado regarding the 2012 shooting in Bethlehem was scheduled to begin March 3, but has been pushed back to July 7 because of these new developments.

As for witnesses, prosecutors said they should feel safe in spite of all this.

"There are protections, yes," said Houck.  "I don't really like to get into the details because our investigation is continuing."

Panell faces up to 25 years in prison and $670,000 in fines, according to federal court paperwork.  Mroganelli said she could also face additional state charges.