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Universal de Idiomas

(506) 223-1327         Published Friday, March 30, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 64          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
About us

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
We can win this fight against the criminal element

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Business people here sometimes are unhappy that we publish articles about crime. We understand. Crime hurts their business. And it hurts ours.

But we remember the old commercial from the automobile mechanic: Pay me now or pay me later. To address the issues of crime now is much less expensive than to let the problem fester and grow to the proportion that is found today in Venezuela or elsewhere. The situation still is manageable by our institutions. The alternative is to let crime grow and encourage the formation of private death squads and informal solutions as one will find in other Central American nations today.

A flood of drugs has inundated the country, in part because U.S. interdiction efforts have been so successful. This leads to violent crime as does a population disproportionately young.

Tourists are not going to return to a place where they were robbed. The Instituto Costarricence de Turismo said Thursday that fewer tourists filed criminal complaints than in the previous year. The press release credited the new tourism police with the reduction in complaints.

We do not need such rose-colored glasses. The
tourists are not filing complains because they know it will do little good. The tourism institute said criminal complaints by tourists had fallen from  1,168 to 910 in the first two months of 2007.

Even if the statistics were accurate, this means more than 15 tourists had reason to file a police complaint each day, Saturdays and Sundays included.

More reader opinion

We have not heard of any major arrests by the tourism police, and we haven't see any of them after dark.

We encourage tourists and expats to file complaints when crimes happen even if they do not think much will be done. And they should send this newspaper a note giving details.

We are happy to report that officials at the U.S. Embassy seem to have taken an interest in the latest brutal crime in Jacó. We hope this continues.

We know that we will continue to fight for the tourists and expats here.

Religious processions are planned nearly every day
By the A.M. Costa Rica

The traditional Palm Sunday procession begins at 9 a.m. this weekend at the Iglesia La Merced at the west end of Avenida 2. The faithful will walk east to the Catedral Metropolitana and pass through a structure representing the gate of Jerusalem.

The procession, which is a major attraction for tourists, too, culminates with a 10:30 a.m. Mass in the cathedral.

The procession of El Señor de Triunfo commemorates the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, the beginning of his path to crucifixion, according to the Christian tradition.

In addition to Hugo Barrantes, the archbishop of San José, Johnny Araya, the mayor of San José will take part.

A lot of residents will not make the procession. They will be on the way to beaches and other vacation locations as perhaps half the country takes advantage of the Semana Santa holiday.

Many government offices, including the Poder Judicial and the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones are closed all week. The Asamblea Legislativa is in recess. Most private businesses are open Monday through Wednesday. Nearly every place is closed Good Friday or Viernes Santo,  as it is called in Spanish. A.M. Costa Rica will not be published that day.

For expats who like to interact with friends at bars and restaurants, the ley seca will cut down on their drinking. From Midnight Wednesday until the early hours of Saturday the sale of alcohol is prohibited, be it in a supermarket or by the drink. Fuerza Pública officers enforce this law and place seals on commercial refrigerators and store displays of alcohol.

Perhaps a million school children are out of class next week, and many will be at the vacation locations with their parents. The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad is warning Central Valley residents not to leave their homes empty. This is a good time for thieves.
More than 800 transit policemen will be working and operating checkpoints. A big target is drunk drivers.

Nearly every church in the country will have Semana Santa processions. A big one is Good Friday in La Fortuna de San Carlos in the shadow of the Arenal volcano.  Members of the parish dress as Romans and other biblical characters.

In San José the cathedral is having a solemn procession Monday at 7 p.m. on Avenida 2. There is a concert at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Another procession takes place Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the vicinity of the cathedral and Parque Central.

Thursday at 5 p.m. there is yet another procession, a silent one, in commemoration of the last supper of Christ. This also is in the downtown partly in Avenida 2. It is followed by an evening Mass.

Friday, the traditional day of the death of Christ, a procession takes place at 10 a.m. representing the trek by Jesus to the hill where he was crucified. In this case, the mock crucifixion will be acted out in Parque Central in front of the cathedral.

At 5 p.m. a procession of burial will take a life-size image of the crucified Christ through the streets of the downtown. A procession from the Iglesia La Solidad bearing a life-size image of the mourning Mary. mother of Christ, will go from that church to the cathedral to join the larger group. A number of uniformed church groups will participate as will a band playing funeral music.

Saturday another procession at 4 p.m. will honor the Virgin Mother, Nuestra Señora de La Solidad, through Avenida 2, Avenida 6 and in the vicinity of the Iglesia La Solidad and the cathedral.

The week ends with a procession of joy at 10 a.m. Easter Sunday in the vicinity of the cathedral and Parque Central, followed by a Mass of Resurrection.

All of the processions attract many photographers and tourists. They add color to a week when the capital is nearly vacant. The nation resumes it daily work Monday, April 9.

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Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 30, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 64

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Environmental group asks
end to crocodile capturing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An environmental group thinks residents of Ortega, Santa Cruz de Guanacaste, ought to do something else on Good Friday instead of capturing and carrying around crocodiles.

The community has a tradition of capturing the creatures from the Río Tempisque and making them the centerpieces of their fiesta. Eventually the animals are released.

But the Asociación Preservacionista de Flora y Fauna Silvestre said that not only does the practice stress the animals but it also makes them more defensive the next time a human approaches them. The organization pointed to a death inflicted by a crocodile on a child in 2005 and a more recent mauling of a farm worker in southwestern Costa Rica.

In addition, the group says the practice is contrary to existing laws protecting animals.

Banner-hanging condo owner
wins acquittal in court case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A resident who made comments about the condo project where he lived by hanging a banner out his window has won acquittal in court.

The man, Ani Ebrahimi, faced a charge of defaming a corporation, according to the Poder Judicial.

The charge originated because the man purchased a condo in Condominios Interamericana in Heredia Nov. 28, 2004, said the Poder Judicial earlier. The man had complaints about the property and brought those complaints to the developer April 29, 2005, and again on Jan. 18, 2006, said the Poder Judicial.

When the complaints were not resolved to his satisfaction, the man hung a banner criticizing the quality of workmanship there and inviting would-be buyers to call him or his neighbors.

The Poder Judicial said the man was absolved Monday, and Ebrahimi confirmed that by e-mail. But neither gave many additional details. The Poder Judicial said that the decision by the judges was that the charge against the man was not proved sufficiently.

San Ramon expat forms
Gays in Costa Rica Tours

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Ex-pat Terry Sharp of San Ramon has formed Gays in Costa Rica Tours and launched the company's Web site, "Gays in Costa Rica."

Gays in Costa Rica Tours is the world's first investment/relocation/real estate tour specifically for the gay & lesbian community, said Sharp in a release.  The firm chose Costa Rica as its launch country given the climate, access to a wide range of outdoor activities, friendly and welcoming people, cost of living, and proximity to North America, he said. He moved here from Washington, D.C.

"For many years, most of the foreigners moving to Costa Rica permanently were those people from the U.S. or Canada who just wanted to invest/retire and live a simple, quiet life here," said Sharp.  "Now, however, we're finding that more and more younger people, particularly gay and lesbian people, want to escape the rat race in North America and Europe and they're finding that Costa Rica is a nearly perfect environment in which to live, start a business, or even continue their home-based businesses, using the power of the Internet. Our tours cater to the growing number of foreigners, particularly gay baby boomers, considering moving here or investing here."

The firms seven-day, seven-night, all-inclusive tour covers major towns in the Central Valley of Costa Rica as well as the well-known Pacific and Atlantic coast beach towns and focuses on providing detailed information on every aspect of living and investing here, said Sharp.

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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 30, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 64

Anti-crime panel OKs cash for data base and phone taps
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government empaneled its high-level commission to direct the fight against crime Thursday.

The commission agreed to invest $300,000 to consolidate and expand a computerized system that would keep track of criminals. The group also agreed to invest a million dollars and set up a system of judges who would be available 24-hours a day to eavesdrop on criminals. The judges would use sophisticated software.

The group also earmarked $500,000 for more electronic monitoring, such as cameras in public places in conjunction with municipalities. It also authorized beefing up an existing program to provide secure communities in certain cantons. This is basically an educational program.

The committee also agreed to try to study more deeply the phenomenon of juvenile gangs. And it endorsed a law making its way through the Asamblea Legislativa that would stiffen penalties for crimes against women.

In a related action, Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, presented a proposed law that would specify rights for victims of and witnesses to crimes. The proposal would keep victims and witnesses informed about the case and also provide some compensation.
 In addition to the court president, members of the commission include Rodrigo Arias Sanchez, the minister of the Presidencia; Laura Chinchilla, minister of Justicia y Gracia and first vice president of the nation; Fernando Berrocal, security minister, José Manuel Arroyo, president of the Sala III, the high criminal court; Francisco Dall’Anese, chief prosecutor, and Francisco Segura, acting director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, as well as Alexander Mora, who chairs the judicial commission in the Asamblea Legislativa.

The commission will next meet April 12.

The proposals followed suggestions from Arias earlier in the week.

Before attending a meeting of the commission, Berrocal accepted a $75,000 gift from the government of Taiwan in the form of 24 motorcycles and four quadracycles that will be used by the new tourism police. The tourism police now have 125 officers, but Berrocal said he hopes the force will soon number 600. They wear white shirts.

Officials also announced that crime reports from tourists were lower in the first two months of the year, some 910 such formal complaints as opposed to 1,168 in the first two months of 2006. They credited this decline to activities of the tourism police, which was formed in December.

Our readers have their say on the crime problem here
He wants lots of publicity
to alert would-be tourists

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Regarding Michael Cook’s letter about the increase of crime in Costa Rica, its causes and results, I would like to request he do the following:

Michael, please do your part to help with this problem.  Contact newspapers and any other media in the U.S. that you can in order to unveil the problems and make the information easily available to many unsuspecting tourists.

As you implied, money drives all that happens in Costa Rica, whether it be crime, corruption or forest destruction and over-development.  For some reason Costa Rican leaders are not able to see and accept that they are slowly “killing the goose that laid the golden egg” while also allowing their once beautiful country to be destroyed.

If people get the true picture of what is actually taking place here, hopefully they will refuse to come.  Most tourists come to enjoy the natural beauty, not condos and gated communities.  Those who come for the condos and gated communities are largely the ones who want to change Costa Rica into nothing more than a playground for the rich.  It is the developers and real estate agents who benefit from that and not Costa Rica.  So please do your part to help stop the destruction of this lovely country.

M. Reiber

Crime starts at low level:
The bribe to the policeman

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Day after day upon reading main articles in your paper one easily grasps the enormity of the crime problem in Costa Rica. Whether it is petty theft or more significant crimes and the taking of lives, one has to wonder why anyone would choose to live or visit in such fearful circumstances.

The beautiful aspects of Costa Rica and the wonderful people who call Costa Rica their home are absolutely baffled and lost in the environment of fear and crime day after day. I have read all kinds of positive steps and actions leading to solutions and most of them involve what actions should be taken against these criminals. Next I hear about what people need to do to protect themselves. Rarely do I hear about “poor law enforcement at the most basic level.” An unpoliced state is a state that will kill itself.

How safe do you feel about a policeman that stops you for a traffic violation that will send you on your way if you hand him a $20 bill? Think about it, as that is the most basic form of petty theft. It happened to me and I know many that have handed police in Tilarán a quick twenty to get out of paperwork.

My point is that if we want to start helping out with the petty theft problem, we are going to have to go to higher ups and report the policeman on the street who is stealing from us. I, for one, am going to find out who, other than other policemen, I can report such incidents to and than follow up to see if any action is taken.

We need to stop giving money to the cops for anything first as we are enabling there stealing from us to. Take the ticket and go to court!!

David Manson
Tilarán, Costa Rica

Don’t bury heads in sand
to avoid seeing problem

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Thank you AMCR, for taking the interest of your readers, and your journalistic responsibilities to report the news seriously.  The incident involving Ms.Wright was almost nowhere to be found in the rest of the English print media.  Also thank you for having the guts to include the photograph. Horrifying!
This should finally be a wake up call to the citizens, the country and the government of Costa Rica, that the “Band-Aid” method of treatment for a national cancer will not work.  It is time to stop burying heads in the sand and take the problem head on.
After hearing other stories, and seeing this image of a woman beaten and molested, and no outcry from other news sources, government entities, or those in the tourism industry, I have to seriously consider whether or not Costa Rica is a place I want to be in again.
How does a country, where the major source of income is tourism, allow this to continue? For years!
You can’t just hope crime will disappear because you don’t report it.  When the cat gets out of the bag, tourists head for other destinations. They realize the government is either unresponsive, or powerless to control crime.
The real estate developers will pack up and move on, once tourism drops and the potential for buyers diminishes.
This is a lose-lose situation for everyone there.  Immediate steps for controlling crime have to be implemented before the image of this great country gets tarnished any further.
I love Costa Rica and its people, and I desire to see them prosper. It would break my heart, and I’m sure the hearts of many others, if this situation would continue go from bad to worse.
Al Loria,
New York, U.S.A.

This mother will have
next baby in Costa Rica

Dear AM Costa Rica:

After almost four years of listening to people complaining about Costa Rica’s crime, inefficiency, lack of any type of structure when it comes to dealing with day-to-day life — telephones, electric, vehicles, etc. — I have had it.

I have read A.M. Costa Rica almost everyday for four years and have held my tongue every time I have felt like saying something. I mean seriously, if you have been robbed three times don’t you think you are doing something wrong?

I am referring to Robyn Wright and others I have seen over the years with multiple problems. I am sorry for her situation and hope she is physically okay. I am sorry if I am wrong and she has had a really bad run of luck.

This is a third world country we have relocated to and in most cases, the victims of these types of crimes (the crimes “targeted towards foreigners”) aren’t assimilated or in sync with the culture, people and country, I mean they don’t deal with real Costa Rican life as a Costa Rican people do.

If you can’t understand Spanish, how could you. We are essentially a visitor to this country, even with residency. This country and the people in it need to be treated with respect. I have been in many different situations in many parts of this country.

I am a married, mother of a 4-year-old who has been here since she was 7 months old. I am now pregnant again and will do anything in my power to make sure this child is born in Costa Rica. I go many places without companionship of my husband or others. My daughter has white-blonde hair like her father (mine is dark brown, like most of this country). She sticks out like a sore thumb.

Many occasions the two of us have traveled to the beach, mostly Jacó, as it is closest to where we live in the Central Valley. I have never been bothered or fearful for our safety, I do remain on alert, aware of what is around me, take precautions so as not to attract too much attention — and we BOTH speak and understand Spanish.

Which I think should be a requirement if you want to live in someone else’s country you should at least be able to understand them.

I love this country and I know there is crime here, but there is crime everywhere, I am tired of hearing Costa Rica is becoming too dangerous. It’s what you make it, if you’re paranoid and think you’re a target, you are a target. I feel safe and comfortable here in my “new” home.

I have no plans to return to the United States, I far prefer the peaceful confusion of Costa Rica. I was just watching something the other night about serial killers in the U.S. There haven’t been any serial killings in C.R. In the 4 years I have been here, at least not that I have heard of.

Deep down it’s a good county, family values mean something, missing church is a bad thing, and faith in more that just what is visible with the eye. I cannot wait until November to have my baby in this country, far better here than in the U.S.
Charlene Stanton
Central Valley

Whole system of justice
must be revamped

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I wanted to thank you for your coverage of the Villalobos trial which is a departure from your previous articles which were more editorial than factual.

My major reason for writing is to congratulate myself for getting out of Costa Rica after 10 years of mounting stress. You know, looking over the shoulder and in the reflection in store windows when walking downtown, putting your back to the wall when the seedy individual who speaks perfect English hits on you for a loan, in Alajuela, while  his partner maneuvers to get behind you for the choke hold, or never leaving your partly full beer bottle to go urinate unless you’re with a friend who can watch it while you’re gone, ruling out the knock out drops.

Congratulations also for getting out after OIJ investigates my burglary, tells me my neighbor is the perp, and then a week or so later I see a tránsito at a rotunda on the Circumvalacion wearing my leather jacket, one of a kind purchased in Turkey, and I know better than to confront him.

All the uproar about the assault/murder at a politicians house proves the accusation I’ve heard many times, mostly from Ticos, that the law protects only the politician, rich and/or well connected parties. But I’m a pessimist. I don’t believe that it really does. The Tico attitude of “no importa” and “it must be Nicas” will assert itself as all this blows over or is swept under the rug. Politicians are fair game for the future,

I read a couple of the letters and found their suggestions to remedy the current situation, sure to be worse in the future, to be laughable attempts to apply Gringo solutions to a Costa Rican problem. It won’t work. It’ll only enrich the police and judges whose mordida rates will go up.

If Costa Rica wants to solve its crime problem, in my opinion, (and following “no importa” I don’t think it does) the entire criminal justice and political system will have to be scrapped and revamped. The party system favoring corruption and payoff must go, the unions together with their criminal featherbedding must be broken, and probably most important, the obsolete and ridiculous criminal justice system founded by that talented but not too bright Napoleon must be scrapped for concentrating too much power in the hands of the judges who control investigation, prosecution decision and sentence.

If Costa Rica doesn’t grab the bull by the horns and fight those who are against ANY change the result is an inevitability. Instead of the Switzerland Latin America, it will become the Colombia, with bandits in the Talamancas, drug labs in San José and all the attendant horrors.

David Brown
Kemah, Texas
formerly from Quebradillas de Dota

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica
fourth news page

Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 30, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 64

Are you considering doing business with a burglar alarm company?

If so, you should contact me first
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From a hotel owner:

'At this time we have a deposit and all looks good!!  Thank you for your help, and I must say your paper is impressive, and I had no idea you had such a circulation around the world.  Received many inquiries for our hotel for that reason.'

She used our classifieds!

The ravages a single tomato can inflict on a kitchen
I love to cook.  I can honestly say I like to cook more than I like to eat.

The Food Network channel is one of my favorite ways to relax.  If I am at loose ends, not knowing what I want to do, I go into the kitchen and cook something or at least read a cookbook. Sometimes I start cooking when I am in the middle of doing something else. so I am going back and forth between endeavors.  Not a good idea.

I have about three dozen cookbooks plus a fat notebook of my own collected recipes, but I regularly read and/or use only a few. My favorites are the classic “The Joy of Cooking,” Marcella Hazan’s "The Classic Italian Cookbook,” “Great Meals in Minutes: (Ha!) Pasta Menus,” and “The Garlic Lovers’ Cookbook.” And, when I want to find out about an ingredient I never heard of, Dr. Lenny Karpman’s, “Noni, Baloney, Puddin’ & Pie.” 

 I seldom bake anything but chocolate chip cookies or Key Lime Pie, which is not really baking, because I consider baking a science requiring exact measurements whereas cooking is an art that I can fiddle with (then roam while it burns). Often my cooking is triggered by the desire to save something.  Like this week, I saw a tomato on my windowsill whose skin was becoming wrinkly.  It no longer qualified for salad but I didn’t want to throw it away so I decided to peel it and make tomato sauce. 

Of course one tomato wouldn’t make much of a sauce so I added two more to peel, seed and chop.  First I had to chop some onion, celery and carrots and sauté them with chopped garlic.  I decided I might as well grate the rest of the Romano cheese while I was waiting for the onion mixture to cook.  I always seem to forget the trouble I got into trying to use some leftover egg whites, inspired by another handy cookbook, “The Good Egg,” by Loretta White.

About this time my friend Sandy called and suggested lunch.  I suggested we have lunch at my place since I didn’t know what else to do with the sauce I was making, except freeze it.  But I couldn’t serve just pasta to a guest.  A salad was in order. The only lettuce I had was an ersatz iceberg. (I discovered much to my surprise that the iceberg lettuce that Nina bought the first of February lasted just    
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

fine until the middle of March.)  With just lettuce I should make an interesting dressing. 

So out came at least five ingredients for my version of Thousand Island dressing.  It included onions, olives, chopped Chinese radish and mustard as well as ketchup and mayonnaise.  By now my kitchen was a mess.  I do not clean up as I go. I try, but I seem incapable of it.  When I shared a house with five other people, we started out with a different person cooking each evening (save Saturday), and another cleaning up.  After my first foray into cooking, we changed the rule to state that the person who cooked also cleaned up afterwards and did the dishes.

The lunch was okay, Sandy enjoyed it but I hardly touched mine.  She had to rush off and I returned to the kitchen to survey the upheaval one little tomato had caused.  I have five other nice large plump ones on my windowsill.  I could have simply made us one of my favorite things, which requires no cooking: a tomato stuffed with tuna.  My version of a recipe in “The Classic Italian Cookbook.” 
Slice off the top of a large ripe tomato (the ferias have terrific tomatoes right now).  Scoop out the seeds, liquid and some of the dividers.  Salt very lightly and turn upside down to drain.  Mix about three spears of tuna from a Sardimar jar of tuna in olive oil, 1 TB or more of capers, a TB of chopped roasted pepper, then mix in mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and deli mustard (quantities to your own taste), 1/4 tsp. lime juice. Decorate the top with sliced olives. 

Remember something I have to keep relearning: Keep it simple.  I have tried adding other ingredients, but it doesn’t improve on the original.  There’s no cooking to this recipe and it dirties very few dishes. This makes it ideal, because as much as I love to cook, I really really hate to do dishes.

Guilty plea ends eight-year saga of Grenanda ponzi scheme
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Portland, Ore. — Laurent Barnabe, 68, a Canadian citizen and current resident of Lake Oswego, Oregon, pleaded guilty this week to two counts of money laundering
in connection with his role in promoting a fraudulent investment scheme in the name of the First International Bank of Grenada.

March 19 Douglas Ferguson, 74, and currently a resident of Portland, Oregon, pled guilty to a money laundering conspiracy charge also arising out of his role in promoting the offshore bank. These pleas brought to a conclusion an eight-year investigation and prosecution into a massive fraud scheme operated out of the Caribbean nation of Grenada with ties to Oregon, said the office of Karin J. Immergut, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

The terms of their plea agreements call for defendant Barnabe to receive a sentence of 72 months incarceration and defendant Ferguson to receive a sentence of 52 months  incarceration, said the U.S. attorney's office. Sentencing is set for June 11.

Defendants Ferguson and Barnabe, along with three others, were charged in October, 2003, in a 147-count indictment with conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering charges arising out of the creation and promotion of the First International Bank of Grenada. Two others defendants in that indictment pled guilty last summer, and the fifth died awaiting trial.

Established in 1997, the First International Bank of 
Grenada offered interest rates to depositors as high as 300  percent. It claimed to have earned more than $12 billion in high yield trading, and to have acquired assets in excess of $26 billion. In reality, it was just a Ponzi scheme, attracting deposits of approximately $170 million dollars, and using that money to make phony “interest” payments to depositors, invest in phony high-yield investment schemes,  and pay significant sums to the defendants, said the U.S. attorney's offfice.

Much of the money was obtained by persuading victims to roll-over pension and IRA money into the bank. When the bank was taken over by the Grenadian government in August 2000, it had less than $2 million in real assets.

Several Oregon depositors lost significant sums of money. The prosecution was undertaken in Oregon because almost $50 million raised during the scheme was funneled through a bank account in Forest Grove, Oregon.

The Frist International Bank of Grenada was loosely connected with an operation run by Richard H. Hinkle, a former pastor in Costa Rica. He has admitted one count of wire fraud involving his operation may have netted up to $8 million, according to a federal prosecutor. He had been listed as a witness in the First International Bank case.

Hinkle operated Cornerstone International Savings and Investment Bank, which also operated in Grenada. His targets were mostly elderly individuals in northeastern Pennsylvania and in Illinois. He stopped making interest payments and fled from Grenada to Costa Rica in late 2001, investigators said.

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