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(506) 223-1327            Published Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 5                E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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New York arrests aimed at wireroom operation here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Federal law officers arrested eight persons Monday in relation to the operation of a Costa Rica-based gambling Web site and telephone call center that served sports bookies in the United States.

The arrests came after federal gambling and money laundering indictments were unsealed. Four persons still are being sought.

Among these is Carmen Cicalese, who was named as being the head of the operation despite being in his 70s. Cicalese, a close associate of the Genovese crime family, has lived in Costa Rica. He goes by the name Buddy and is believed to directly supervise the operation here.

The arrests were announced by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael J. Garcia in New York City.

This is not the first brush with the law by Cicalese. New Jersey law officers sought him when they busted up a Genovese crime family bookmaking operation in December 2004.

The Bergen County, New Jersey, prosecutor said at the time that Cicalese, then 73, operated a wire room in Costa Rica called DataWagers. The prosecutor, John L. Molinelli, said that law officers confiscated $670,000 from a safety deposit box held by Cicalese and his wife, Rose, according to news accounts at the time.

The New York federal prosecutor identified the wire rooms by the Internet names and in the announcement Monday.

From at least 2005, Cicalese operated the Internet Web sites and telephone call center, known as a wireroom, in Costa Rica which charged U.S.-based sports bookies weekly fees of approximately $15 to $30 for each gambler that the bookie registered, said Garcia. In return, registered gamblers were able to place bets on sporting events at odds set by
the Cicalese wireroom via a toll-free phone number and through various Web sites maintained by the Cicalese wireroom, he said.

The Cicalese wireroom did not itself take an interest in the outcome of these wagers. Paying winners and collecting from losers was the responsibility of the bookies, Garcia added.

Bookies paid the fees owed to the Cicalese wireroom to Cicalese aides in the United States, the prosecutor said.

These collectors would use various methods to get the money back to Costa Rica, according to the announcement. One time they even used a Pakistani-based hawala money transfer organization, it said.

The eight individuals arrested Monday were either
bookies who used the wireroom to handle their bets or several runners for the Cicalese organization.

One person arrested has the name Patrick Cicalese, but his relationship with the alleged leader of the organization was not disclosed.

The extent of the call center operation here was not disclosed.

Some of those listed in the indictment Monday have names right out of a Damon Runyon short story. Federal agents identified one as Louie Santos, known as Lou the Shoe. Another was Paul Cellurap, who had the nickname Coppertone.

The Web pages cited by law officers are not operating, but left a fragment on the Internet that said "We provide a secure Internet solution for placing wagers with your sport book."

Federal and some local prosecutors have been cracking down on offshore betting operations that take money from U.S. citizens. Some of the operations in Costa Rica have links to Mafia organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Dengue affected 25,361 individuals in 2007, but malaria was down
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 25,361 persons contracted dengue in 2007, according to partial figures provided Monday by the Ministerio de Salud. That number is more than double the cases in 2006.

Some 311 cases were of the more serious hemorrhagic dengue. All but four of these cases were in the north Pacific, the central Pacific or the Caribbean coast. And the deaths of eight persons were attributed to the hemorrhagic form, according to the statistics.
The data runs from January to the first week in December, so more cases will be added to the toll, in part because of late rains that will allow the mosquitoes that transmit the disease to breed without interruption.

The increase was attributed to less emphasis on cleaning up breeding spots and spraying.

The country also saw 1,176 cases of malaria, nearly all of it, 1,101, on the Caribbean slope. When December totals are computed, malaria cases are expected to be about half of 2006 cases.

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Abonos Agro handed fine
for anti-competitive policy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A commission to promote competitiveness has fined a major construction supplier for the practice of requiring a related purchase.

The Comisión para Promover la Competencia said that the firm, Abonos Agro S.A., has been cited with a 64 million-colon fine, about $128,000.

The commission found in a hearing that the company was guilty of an anti-competitive practice. A news release was not specific but the commission did cite the relevant law that forbids the sale of a product on the condition that other goods or services be purchased.

The commission said that one product involved was varillas para construction. Varillas are steel bars, and the company stocks a number of different sizes with many surfaces. Some are appropriate to be used as rebar in the pouring of concrete. Others are rectangular slabs of steel for further fabrication. There was no statement on what type of varilla was involved in the hearing.

The company was also ordered to stop such practices. The company has two months to ask for a reconsideration of the decision and fine, the commission said.

Dead baby had pneumonia,
initial autopsy discovers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A baby that died in housing provided to migrant coffee pickers suffered from bronchial pneumonia, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The organization's press office reported the findings of an autopsy late Monday. Death was attributed to a pulmonary edema or water in the lungs.

The baby died on a finca in San Ramón in the company of about 30 persons, all of them Indians from Panamá who came to Costa Rica for the coffee harvest. Some 14 of the individuals were minors, and they were taken Sunday to the local hospital for evaluation, said the Fuerza Pública. The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, also is involved.

Our reader's opinion
Article wrongly characterized
Chávez legislative goal

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your Jan. 7 article discussing President Hugo Chávez' plan to slow down his socialist revolution in Venezuela contains an error of fact typical of how the anti-Chávez movement distorts the truth.  The article ends with the following paragraph:

"Venezuelan voters last month turned down the constitutional reform package which included making Chávez president for life."

In fact, the constitutional reform package did no such thing.  It proposed an elimination of presidential term limits, a condition that currently applies to most leaders of Western European countries and that applied to the president of the United States until 1951.  The implementation of no term limits still would have required that Mr. Chávez be elected periodically in order to remain in office.

Steve Roman
San Antonio de Belén

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Quepos band event ready to go, but ticket sales are lagging
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A concert that organizers claimed would put Quepos on the international music festival map may fall on few ears this weekend after disappointing ticket sales and a spate of negative opinion killed off some sponsorship.

The planning for Costa Bazooka, a one-day festival to bring American and Costa Rican bands together for 12 straight
hours of rock, was started months ago by promoter Bruce LaPierre from Massachusetts.

All is set for the music marathon at Rancho Alegre, Damas, that will see 10 Costa Rican bands and 10 American bands play on Saturday, but only 400 tickets have so far been sold.

Organizers partly blame the lack of interest on “bad-mouthing” by people involved in the Costa Rican music business.

“It has cost me my airline
Bruce LaPierre
sponsor, the Costa Rican group Ghandi, and almost cost me the El Presidente Hotel sponsorship,” LaPierre said Monday at the hotel.

Costa Rican DJ and producer Darren Mora is among those who remain skeptical about the project, which intends to give $1 from each $15 ticket to the Roberta Felix Foundation.

“LaPierre contacted me six months ago to ask for help,” said Mora. “Whenever I meet someone I Google them. So let's say this guy didn't Google. He only seems to have done small-time stuff, and I was worried that he didn't know enough about Costa Rica to pull this off.”

Mora claims to be joined by people from Radio Dos and the music newspaper En Tarima in thinking that the festival would never get off the ground.

The organizers had to cancel one show in San José nightclub Atlantis that was due to take place Monday night as part of a two-date warm up in the capital.

Problems with permits that must be gained by international acts before they can play in Costa Rica have been cited as the reason for the cancellation, but the second date will go ahead tonight at the same club, with nine bands playing.

Although told by promoter Marvin Cordoba at the very beginning of his planning that his idea was impossible, LaPierre ignored the criticism and spent over $18,000 of his own money to bring his plans to fruition.
turning point band
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Members of the band Turning Point from Paris, Texas,  were enjoying themsleves Monday at the bar in the Hotel Presidente. Other U.S. bands were there, too.

 “I'm not saying that his intentions are bad or that he is scamming people,” Mora, who also owns a San José bookshop called Mora Books, added. “but I think that it doesn't make sense to spend so much money on something that was such a gamble — he would need at least 3,000 attendees to break even.”

LaPierre confirmed that all relevant permits have been obtained for the concert on Saturday.

Roberta Felix of the Roberta Felix Foundation which works with disabled children in rural communities in Costa Rica said that even if the event is smaller than expected, the charity will benefit.

“We recieved 100 free tickets to sell, which we sold to supporters of the foundation.” Ms. Felix said. “If it goes well we already made $1,500 dollars, which helps us offset the costs of speech therapy as right now the foundation has to charge a small fee to the parents because we don't have the money to provide it as a free service. If bands just show up, the foundation will at least make something from the event.”

Although the festival may not see as much support as it would like, North American bands have already hit Costa Rican soil and look more than likely to play the concert that opponents said would never get off the ground.

LaPierre said that he is still happy with his efforts. “I got a bit carried away. I thought I'd get thousands of people down there, but it looks like I'll be lucky to get 500.”

Former policeman on a crusade to get veterans their benefits
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robert W. McInnes says he wants to make sure every U.S. veteran or dependent gets every dollar that they deserve from Uncle Sam.

McInnes is the service officer for the American Legion, and
Robert W. McInnes
Robert W. McInnes
he is directing his concerns to the wave of North Americans moving to Costa Rica.

But he is not certain veterans will get a fair shake simply by visiting the U.S. Embassy and asking questions. The government never volunteers to give anyone money, he notes, adding that volunteer operations at the embassy have been curtailed.

While others are watching late night television, McInnes, a former Suffolk County, New York, policeman, is reading
obscure rules and regulations relating to veteran benefits.

As a result of his studies, he can say:

• Any veteran who served in Korea and was near the demilitarized zone, along with any veteran who was in the area of Vietnam should request coverage from the government for their exposure to agent orange, white and
blue. This covers a lot of medical problems and almost all cancers.

• 67 percent of all veterans from Vietnam have hepatitis C and don't even know it.

• A woman who was married to a retired veteran and is divorced, and she has not re-married, is entitled to full medical coverage by the Veteran's Administration here.

• Any child recognized by the veteran as sole provider is entitled to educational benefits, and that includes children not adopted legally.

McInnes has been doing this for 10 years and reports that he has been able to get hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits for individual veterans or dependents. He works for free.

"So if you were wounded or treated for anything in the service, you have to talk to me." he said. "You can get all your medical records, awards, citations by applying for them. Even if you are getting a disability now and have not received an increase in the past five years, call me.

"There are educational benefits available for the children of veterans here. Everyone tells you where to go and what to do. Don’t listen to them. Get the facts from me.

"You were there and did your part, now the government has to live up to their contract with you! Call me at 203-3227 or e-mail:"

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Feds open indictments on major U.S. Internet spam ring
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A federal grand jury indictment has been unsealed in Detroit, Michigan, charging 11 persons, in a wide-ranging international fraud scheme involving the illegal use of bulk commercial e-mailing or "spamming."

Those accused include Michigan residents, a dual national of Canada and Hong Kong and individuals from Russia, California, and Arizona,

"The flood of illegal spam continues to wreak havoc on the online marketplace and has become a global criminal enterprise," said Alice S. Fisher, an assistant U.S. attorney general of the Criminal Division. "It clogs consumers' e-mail boxes with scams and unwanted messages and imposes significant costs on our society. This indictment reflects the commitment of the Department of Justice to prosecuting these spamming organizations wherever they may operate. . . ."

"Today's charges seek to knock out one of the largest illegal spamming and fraud operations in the country, an international scheme to make money by manipulating stock prices through illegal spam e-mail promotions," said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy.

The charges arose after a three-year investigation — led by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service — revealed a sophisticated and extensive spamming operation that, as alleged in the indictment, largely focused on running a stock “pump and dump” scheme, whereby the defendants sent spam touting thinly traded Chinese penny stocks, drove up their stock price, and reaped profits by selling the stock at artificially inflated prices.

According to the indictment, the defendants used various illegal methods in order to maximize the amount of spam that evaded spam- blocking devices and tricked recipients into opening, and acting on, the spam advertisements.
These included using falsified headers in the e-mail messages, using proxy computers to relay the spam, using falsely registered domain names to send the spam, as well as making misrepresentations in the advertising content of some of the underlying e-mail messages.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants tried to send their spam by utilizing a cybercrime tool known as a “botnet,” which is a network of computers that have been infected with malicious software code that in turn would instruct the infected computers to send spam. The indictment charges that the defendants earned profits when recipients responded to the spam and purchased the touted products and services.

The primary role in the scheme of How Wai John Hui, 49, of Vancouver, Canada, and Hong Kong was to act as a conduit for Chinese companies who wanted their stocks pumped by the scheme. Ultimately, investigators estimate that the defendants earned approximately $3 million during the summer of 2005 alone as a result of their illegal spamming activities.

During the course of their illegal spamming operation, the types of products and services that the defendants pitched evolved over time, as did the types of illegal spamming techniques they employed. The 41-count indictment covers three distinct, but interrelated, conspiracies to capture this evolution in their business practices.

The indictment charges the defendants with the commission of several federal criminal offenses, including conspiracy, fraud in connection with electronic mail, computer fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. It also charges the defendants with criminal asset forfeiture, as well as charging one defendant with making false statements to law enforcement.

Alan M. Ralsky, 52, of West Bloomfield, Michigan, his son-in-law, Scott K. Bradley, 46, of West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Judy M. Devenow, 55, of Lansing, Michigan, were identified as principal figures in the case.

Two more figures in suitcase case plead innocent to acting as foreign agents
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two Venezuelans have pleaded innocent to U.S. federal charges of acting as unregistered foreign agents in a scandal involving an alleged illegal Venezuelan contribution to the electoral campaign of Argentina's new president.

Lawyers for the men, Moises Maionica and Carlos Kauffmann, entered their pleas Monday in a Miami, Florida, courtroom.

They are among five men indicted in the case. Two others pleaded innocent in December and one, Antonio José Canchica Gómez, is still at large.

U.S. authorities say the men came to Miami to pressure Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson into concealing the source of $800,000 brought into Argentina in a suitcase in August.
Antonini had the cash with him when he arrived at the Buenos Aires airport. Argentine officials seized the money and allowed him to leave the country.

U.S. officials have not charged the Venezuelan-American Antonini, who is cooperating with American investigators.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, for whom the money was allegedly destined, has described the allegations as "garbage." Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has accused the United States of seeking to undermine the relationship between Venezuela and Argentina.

The U.S. says the case in not politically motivated.

Antonini is wanted in Argentina on money laundering charges, but U. S. prosecutors have declined to honor Argentina's extradition request.

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