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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 22          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Investigators report no complaints
Theft by telephone takes a new turn here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Several groups of scammers are fleecing North Americans by telephone from San José, but it looks like little will be done about it.

In addition to the scammers, the benefactors appear to be the local telephone company and several companies that transfer funds, including Western Union.

Phone rooms have been selling various investment opportunities and other get-rich-quick schemes for years. Now the city is becoming a base for an advanced fee lottery scam and for the sale of non-existent computers.

U.S. consumer police moves
against five in Escazú

For the fake lottery and the computer scam, participants have said the money is channeled through Western Union. Both are bold crimes that depend on fluent English speakers to close the deal with the suckers in the United States or Canada. The computers are offered at an excellent price because they do not exist. The lottery is simply a ploy to get supposed winners to send several hundred dollars in "administrative fees."

Those who do the calling say they can make $200 to $300 a day and they are paid daily.

The Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigation Organization reports that it has no investigations under way because it has no complaints, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The scamsters rely on the likelihood that victims will not make a report. To do so takes some effort. The victim in North American would have to travel to the nearest Costa Rican consulate to make a report, said the spokesman for the Judicial Investigation Organization.

An alternative, according to the spokesman would be for U.S. victims to contact the U.S. Embassy here. However, the concept of telephone fraud is so far below the embassy radar it has not even been mentioned in the description of typical crimes in the annual country report.

Scammers also depend on victims being too embarrassed to report the telephone theft of a relatively small amount of money.

There is no indication that the fraud rings are connected with larger, better known branches of organized crime. However, those who run them are believed to be North Americans.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which holds the telephone monopoly, has not been anxious to crack down on this form of wire fraud. The scammers only get cut off if they don't pay the phone bill.

However, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has taken notice of the scammers. The agency, which protects U.S. consumers, said "In a new spin on the age-old sweepstakes scam, crooks are getting bolder, using names of government agencies and legitimate phone numbers that mask where they’re calling from. Claiming to  represent 'the national consumer protection agency,' the non-existent National Sweepstakes Bureau, and even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), they say that the delivery of the sweepstakes prize is being supervised by the supposed government agency. And they’re using Internet technology to make it appear that they’re calling from Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, or the consumer’s own area code."

"Hold on to your money, the FTC said in a pre-Christmas alert. "Scammers pressure people to wire money through commercial  money transfer companies like Western Union because wiring money is the same as sending  cash. If you discover you’ve been scammed, the money’s gone, and there’s very little chance of recovery.

"Likewise, resist any push to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Con artists recommend these services so they can get to your money before you realize you’ve been cheated."

The FTC did not mention Costa Rica in the alert, but the agency did use Costa Rica as a searchable keyword for the document.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 22

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Loophole over local tax
delays restaurant's doom

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ramírez family thought that they would know the fate of their beachside restaurant Mar y Sombra by Monday, but although a letter from the Municipalidad de Aguirre says otherwise, the family is adamant that the demolition of the restaurant is not yet set in stone.

The family's hopes rely on a legal loophole which the municipality seems to be content to let the restaurant use.  Mar y Sombra has to pay its annual patente or income tax, but as long as the legality of the restaurant is under dispute, the municipality cannot accept the tax.  And while the dispute over the patente is going on, the municipality won't close the restaurant. 

A letter by Victor Hugo Acuña Zúñiga of the Municipalidad de Aguirre said simply that the restaurant's license is in review so, therefore, the municipality doesn't know the exact amount it should charge Mar y Sombra.  What the letter doesn't mention is that while all this is being sorted out, the restaurant can stay in operation. 

The Manuel Antonio fixture has been an object of a land dispute for much of its 40-year existence.  A law passed in the 1970s states that all property withing 50 meters of the high-tide mark is public property on which no building can rest.  Mar y Sombra sits inside this zone.  In 2003 the municipality issued an order for the demolition of the restaurant but the Ramírez family lawyer negotiated the order away.  The building was slated to be demolished again Jan. 23 but the lawyer filed an appeal again.

That day, tourists and residents protested as a front-end loader began piling up tables and benches.  Some even chained themselves to the building to prevent the demolition. 

Rain slackens off,
and alert is lifted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rain that had emergency commission officials worried enough to form temporary shelters and evacuate citizens in the Caribbean and northern zone has diminished

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the rain has been very limited and scattered and, as a result, the Comisión de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias has also lifted the yellow alert it had issued for the region. 

The commission is now asking local emergency committees to refill the food, blankets and water they used for the persons temporarily driven from their homes and to also keep an eye on those areas most susceptible to flooding and landslides in case the rain should return. 

Air evacuation plane
gets a big workout

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública's air evacuation plane was put to good use Monday.

Gerald Vargas Ugalde, a 9-year-old youth in Limón was airlifted to Juan Santamaría international airport then taken by ambulance to the Hospital Nacional del Niño after being hit by a car.  The driver sped away, and no details were available about the vehicle, said the security ministry.

The air evacuation plane was also used in the cases of 24-year-old Mónica Quirós Salazar, who gave birth prematurely, and 24-year-old Evelyn Meza Morales, who was having problems with her pregnancy.  Both women were taken to the capital and then Hospital Calderón Guardia from Coto 47 de Corredores in the southern part of the country. 

Fishing tourney begins
in waters off Golfito

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Stu Apte Fly Fishing Sailfish Tournament starts today at Golfito Sailfish Rancho, and 28 anglers are scheduled to compete, organizers said. 

Fishing starts today with anglers forming teams of two for the competition.  Each team will have an International Game Fishing Association certified observer aboard their boat.  The awards are scheduled for Friday at Golfito Sailfish Rancho, organizers said. The winning team will receive an invitation to fish in the Rolex/International Game Fishing Association offshore championship in 2007.

Benefits from  the tournament will help to promote sport fishing and raise funds for the Costa Rica Sport Fishing Association, organizers said. This organization was formed in January 2005 with the goal of promoting the conservation of billfish in Costa Rica.  

Six held in carjacking cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers have arrested six persons in connection with a series of car robberies in the Central Valley.

A man identified by the last names Navarro Cascante was arrested near Plaza Víquez Saturday in San José as a suspect in the robbery of a Nissan Sentra, officers said.  That night, someone carjacked a vehicle from a man identified by the last name Quirós, officers said.   The victim called 911 and soon after, Police found a car and suspect matching Quirós' description, they said. 

Monday, Fuerza Pública officers in Desamparados arrested four men and a woman accused of robbing two cars in San Miguel, the officers said.  Police said a phone call warned them of two suspicious cars at a house in the town. 
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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Third news page

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 22

Five ordered to halt U.S. operations
Coffee figured in phone sales from Escazú, FTC says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An Escazú, Costa Rica, operation that used voice-over-Internet protocol services, shell corporations, aliases, and shills to con U.S. consumers into investing in a bogus business opportunity has been halted by a U.S. District Court at the request of the Federal Trade Commission. The court has issued a temporary restraining order barring the false claims, freezing the defendants’ assets, and appointing a receiver, who shut down the toll-free and U.S. phone lines used to market the scheme.

Implicated in what was described as a telemarketing scam were Dilraj Mathauda who uses the alias Dan Reynolds, Sirtaj Mathauda, Jeff Pearson who uses the alias Tau1 Clayton, David Mead, president of the firm, USA Beverages, and Silvio Carrano, treasurer of USA Beverages, according to court papers. All live or lived in Escazú, the court papers say.

The defendants used classified ads and a Web site to advertise their coffee display rack franchises. They claimed that in exchange for payments from $18,000 to $85,000, they would provide customers with what they needed to operate a successful coffee display rack business, including assistance in finding profitable locations for the racks. According to the company’s Web site, the firm was located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and had been in business since 1994.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the scam actually was based in Escazú, but the defendants used voice-over-Internet services to obscure the location of the business and make it appear that they were operating from New Mexico. The complaint also alleges the company has been operating only since May, not years, as claimed on the Web site, www.cafedelrev.net. The firm used the well-known
COFFEE --Coffee Superb Route Dist. Starbucks Type Product. Earn $2K Weekly 1-800-567-2806 24 hrs.
"Cafe Del Rey" trade name in the business, the FTC said.

The FTC’s complaint alleged the defendants made false claims about earnings potentials, locations available for the display racks, and company-selected references. The complaint further alleged the defendants did not make certain disclosures required in the initial disclosure documents and in advertising that contained earnings claims.

Representatives selling the franchises for the defendants claimed that consumers would make no less than $1,055.60 per week if they operated a 13-display rack venture. The FTC alleged such claims were false. As part of the sales pitch, representatives assured consumers that numerous retail locations were already lined up in their local area — another claim the FTC alleged was untrue. Representatives referred prospective buyers to “satisfied purchasers.” The references echoed earnings claims made by the representatives for the company and spoke highly of the location service. The FTC charged, however, that often the references were simply shills, paid by the company for endorsements, using prepaid cell phones to make it appear purchasers were operating successful coffee display routes throughout the United States.

The U.S. district court judge granted an ex-parte temporary restraining order, asset freeze, immediate access, and the appointment of a receiver. Of course, the asset freeze only covers U.S. holdings.

Blood samples in Texas had warm welcome
Die-off of animals at Corcovado Park still a mystery

By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nearly two months have passed since investigators started looking into what caused the deaths of numerous monkeys, toucans, sloths and macaws in Parque Nacional Corcovado, and still researchers, park officials and government higher-ups are holding their cards close to their chests clinging to the story that the animals died of starvation.

When the animals started dying, then-park director Alvaro Ugalde issued an order Dec. 5 closing the park to all but investigators. The public only learned of it when a hotel operator informed A.M. Costa Rica a few days later and a worker at the park office in Puerto Jiménez faxed a copy of the order to the newspaper.  The team sent a number of blood samples to labs in Texas and Brazil.

Since then, there have been these revelations:

• The exact nature of the report of the Texas lab tests on the blood of the animals remains a secret.

•  Alvaro Ugalde, former park director, lost his job in the wake of the park closure.  

•  Blood samples sent to Texas may have been exposed to room temperature at U.S. Customs when ice in the container melted.

•  Although toucans, monkeys, sloths and macaws all died, only blood samples from monkeys were sent to the laboratories. 

•  A report that will be issued by the University Nacional after the matter is closed will not include the original laboratory reports.
Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, minister of Ambiente y Energía, gave permission for reporters and the public to learn of the contents of the Texas lab report. However, he did not have a copy of the document. 

Others associated with the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación or the Parque Corcovado declined to provide it or said they did not have it.

Grace Wong, a researcher and expert on monkeys at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia also declined to provide a copy, although she maintains that all the Texas lab results were inconclusive. She claimed that the university controlled the release of the information, not the ministry that ultimately is in charge of running the park.

Ugalde, the park director, said that the park simply didn't have the money to rehire him once his contract expired. But a new director was hired soon after.  There is speculation that pressure from tourism operators led to the loss of Ugalde's job.

The blood samples were sent to Texas on ice, and there was a time when the blood samples were removed from the ice, Professor Wong confirmed. 

The Universidad Nacional workers are still looking into the problem, Professor Wong said. The results from similar samples sent to a lab in Brazil are unknown.

Officials and researchers say that the hard rains from the record Atlantic Hurricane season ruined the flowering of the fruits the animals eat, and they starved to death.  However, sloths eat leaves, a resource clearly abundant in the park.

The park is located on the Osa Peninsula in extreme southwest Costa Rica.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 22

Perpetual tourist held as fugitive from sex charge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A North American fugitive who took advantage of multiple tourist visas to stay in Costa Rica was apprehended Monday when he entered the country from Panama.

The man was identified as Richard Debre Pate, 47, who is wanted to answer a charge of abusing a minor in the State of Texas, a security ministry announcement said.

The alleged crime was reported to have happened in August 2003 when Pate was in the company of an underage girl at her house. The announcement said the crime happened when Pate took the underage

U.S. to donate computers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States Government plans to donate more than $23,000 in computer equipment today to the special investigations division of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. 

Mark Langdale, the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, will represent the United States in the ceremony which is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the auditorium at the ministry. 

The donated equipment will be distributed among 10 delegations where it is intended to be used against the exploitation of minors throughout the country, said the U.S. Embassy. 
girl outside and then forced himself on her, threatening her if she reported the incident.

Agents began to follow Pate July 15 when they became aware that he was a perpetual tourist, leaving the country every 90 days to renew his visa.

Tourists do not have to provide a police report as do those who apply for other forms of residency.

Richard Debre Pate
Agents said Pate has no residency status and did not have a visible job, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Pate would go to Nicaragua or to Panamá via land routes, the announcement said.

When he was arrested Monday afternoon he was returning from Panama at Sixaola. He was in the company of a woman. The arrest was made by the Fuerza Pública de Sixaola, agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad representing the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

A Williamson County, Texas, court issued an arrest warrant June 27, agents said. A warrant was issued here Nov. 2 by the Tribunal de Juicio of the Primer Circuito Judicial of San José.

Pate was brought to San José later Monday.

Two get free rides back to face justice in the U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. fugitive who has been in custody here since 2002 and a second man who will face a tax evasion charge went back to the United States Monday.

The first is Frankie Stephen Jett, formerly of Bello Horizonte who faces charges in Georgia of postal fraud and money laundering.

Jett also is well known in the expat community as having falsely claimed to be a former Navy SEAL and the recipient of the U.S. Silver Star, the second highest
award for bravery. Jett ran Cirroteuma, S.A. and Unicorn Investments, Ltd. here and sought residency
in the category of an inversionista.

The second man is John P. Miesen, who will face a three-count tax evasion allegation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Miesen, 63, is accused of failing to pay some $100,000 in 1996 taxes and of transferring all his money to Switzerland when the U.S. Internal Revenue Service notified him of penalties and interest in February 1998. In 1998 Miesen and a business partner sold a $1.2 million building and failed to report the capital gain or pay the tax, officials said. The total evasion amounts to $1.5 million, said officials here after his arrest last May 23.

Long-time missionary here, Connie Fern Kinch, 86, dies in California
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Connie Fern Kinch, 86, a long-time missionary in San José, died in California Thursday.

Kinch, born Aug. 10, 1919, in Reeder, ND, grew up in Mountain View, Calif., where he met and married Esther Marie Barton, daughter of a Baptist pastor Jan. 21, 1945.  After working as chief mechanic for the Valley Express Truck Lines and later launching his own landscaping business in the San Jose area in 1948, Connie and Esther Kinch volunteered for missionary service with the Latin America Mission in San José, where they served as missionaries for more than 40 years.

As part of his full-time mission ministry, Mr. Kinch served as the director of building and maintenance for the facilities and equipment of the mission in Costa Rica, which included the Bible Hospital, the Bible Seminary, the Roblealto campgrounds and orphanage, their local church, and many missionary homes.  In addition to being a skilled builder and innovator, he also trained Ticos to carry on the work he started. 
After retiring from overseas missionary service, Connie and Esther moved to northern Florida where they once more became actively involved in the lives of needy people by ministering to migrant workers and their families from all over Latin America.  Some seven years later, they moved to the Missionary Village in Bradenton, Fla., where Connie
volunteered in the worldwide tape ministry of the Aurora Ministries, and worshipped at Bible Baptist Church in Bradenton, Fla.  Just over one year ago, Connie and Esther moved once more, this time to Orange County, Calif., in order to be closer to the immediate family. 

In addition to his wife of 61 years, he is survived by 10 of their 11 children, some of whom still live in Costa Rica: Rodney, Gilbert, Claudia, Bruce, Ethel, Arthur, Harold, Florence, Roy and Clara.  His son John died in 2002.  Mr. Kinch is also survived by 34 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. 

Donations may be made to the Latin America Mission, Box 52-7900, Miami, FL 33152-7900 or to Cono Christian School, 3269 Quasqueton Ave, Walker, Iowa 52352 

Four men get 35-year prison terms in Guanacaste robbery and murder
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four Guatemalans have been sentenced to 35 years each in prison for killing a money changer in La Cruz, Guanacaste last April 27. 

The victim, Héctor Bonilla Bonilla worked at the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica changing money for travelers.

The four Guatemalans, identified by the last names
Gabriel Sanabria, Aguirre Marroquín and two identified by the last names of Peña Pomares shot the 54-year-old Bonilla as he left his house to go to the border, the judge said. 

They then stole his briefcase with some 8 million colons, ($16,029) hopped in his car and drove towards La Chanchita where they abandoned the car and crossed the border on foot, the judge said. 
Costa Rican police worked with Nicaraguan police to track the fugitives down. 

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