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(506) 2223-1327         Published Monday, May 26, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 103         E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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A property fraud case study
Expat couple fought for five years to get day in court
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A retired expat couple came back to Costa Rica last week to fight for their rights.  They say they are fighting to get back their beautiful ocean view condominium taken from them over five years ago.  The persons who got the condo were experienced in their game, and the retired couple honest and unsuspecting.

This criminal court case paints a classic Costa Rica property swindle scenario.  The expat couple came to Costa Rica to look for a retirement home near the beach to enjoy their lives after many years of hard work and saving a retirement fund.  They trusted the people they met including the attorneys they hired to look out for their interest.  They invested about $300,000.

That was their first mistake, trusting people.  According to their allegations, almost everyone they met became part of the ultimate scam, including the real estate agent, the seller of the apartment and the attorneys.  Their second mistake was not taking heed when the warning signs started to pop up all around them.

One day, it was too late. A truck pulled up in front of their condominium along with a judge and the police.  They were not there. The judge told the administrator of the building the expat couple did not own the property — they never legally owned it — and he gave the police the order to evict them.  The takeover was planned to the last detail. Those who took over the condo contracted a moving van to take all the expats' personal belongings to San José for storage.  For the ultimate insult, they arranged to have a bill sent to the couple by the moving company for the expenses of the move.  The expats were in the United States at their primary residence at the time.

The case starts this week and is scheduled for five days.  A tribunal — a three-judge court — will issue a verdict as soon as Friday. However, the case could flow over until next week with a verdict immediately after it is finished.

Another expat fought a fraud case against a politician's wife two years ago and won.  His case almost expired before it ever got to court.  The criminal attorney who won that case is also the lawyer for the retired expats.

The victims, the retired couple, are the exception not the rule.  Most people swindled out of property in Costa Rica do not have the financial resources to fight.  These two people decided to fight to the end and take on whatever the sacrifice to expose the rampant property fraud in this country.

That is one of the major problems in combating property fraud here. Not enough people fight — or cannot fight due to lack of resources — against criminals.  Another major problem is that the courts are so over burdened and disorganized that many cases never get to trial.  For the ones that do get to court, the law and the judges are bound to the principle, “in dubio pro reo.”  This is a Latin legal term that means, “when in doubt, favor the accused.”

The scammers usually know the law and the victims do not.  They know most people cannot afford a prolonged legal battle, so they make friends with lawyers where everyone gets a piece of the action.  Because of this, the crooks usually do not have the same legal costs as the scammed. 
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They also know the courts are overwhelmed, so they play games with the legal process to increase the likelihood that any penalties for wrongdoing will expire before the case gets to court. Most importantly, they know what “in dubio pro reo” means, so they play with the evidence, threaten witnesses and send accomplices elsewhere.

In the case of the retired expats, the original lawyers recruited more lawyers along the way to delay the judicial process.   They did not have to work too hard either. The criminal court system had the whole case so screwed up it has taken four years to get a court date.  The only reason there is a trial this week is due to the pleading of the attorney to the prosecutor for justice.  In fact, the case almost died on the vine as so many do.  As for the “in dubio pro reo,” the key witnesses for the plaintiffs say they have been threatened with their lives if they show up in court.  The accomplices cannot be found to receive subpoenas.

The financial burden on the expats include contracting attorneys with retainers, paying for extensive investigative research, contracting private investigators to find the accomplices, flying witnesses to San José several times to meet with prosecutors, paying for hotel stays, officially translating documents, and the list goes on.    The retirees had to spend this just to get the case to court.  Now that the trial is upon them, they have had additional expenses including protecting their witnesses, lodging everyone close to court and paying for simultaneous translators so they will understand what is going on.  Simultaneous translators cost $30 to $50 an hour and are hard to find.

The retired couple who lost their condominium over five years ago has had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get to judgment day.  They are tired and fed up with Costa Rica and its legal system.  Even if they win next week and the tribunal awards them their property back, they will have to continue to fight to get the property registered into their name.  There are always appeals and more legal roadblocks to overcome.

Garland M. Baker is a 36-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  He is a consultant to the case described above. Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article.  Copyright 2008, use without permission prohibited.

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clean up of bolivar's bust
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
Crew uses scaffolding to reach the bust of Bolívar

Liberator being liberated
of graffiti and city grime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Simón Bolívar is getting a face lift. And so will the rest of the monuments in Parque Morazán, said members of a municipal construction crew Sunday.

Over the weekend, workers could be seen painting and scraping the bust of Simón Bolívar statue. The project includes a scaffolding, and a crew of four men who are removing moss and painting and doing an overall restoration of the statue.

Bolívar is not the only one who will be getting work done, said Javier Amador, a construction worker on the municipality's project. The other historical statue will be refreshed and so will the bandstand in the center of the park, said Amador. The project will take about four months, estimated the construction crew members, who said they will only be working in Parque Morazán.

Stimulus plan has cost U.S.
$45.7 billion already

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Treasury reports it sent out 6.2 million payments last week to taxpayers and others as part of the Bush administration plan to stimulate the economy. So far, the Treasury has sent out 51.7 million payments totaling $45.7 billion, the department said Friday. Last week was the fourth week of the payments.

This week's numbers represent the near completion of all direct deposits with the mailing of paper checks continuing, said the Treasury Department. The agency also is mailing out regular tax refund checks, so it will not be concentrating completely on paper checks for stimulus payments until June, it said.

U.S. citizens who filed a tax return and some low-income individuals are getting from $300 to $600 apiece from the government. These include expats in Costa Rica, according to a recent story in A.M. Costa Rica.

Our reader's opinion
He's for vegetarianism

Good for Henry Kantrowitz on the climate effects of ranching. Vegetarianism also reduces the mass cruelty of the livestock industry. And it's great for one's personal health, prolongs lifespan, and keeps the weight down.

Meat is high on the food chain and acts as a net for contaminents, both those in the environment and those applied directly to the animal. Primary foods are inherently safer. And never mind the bluster of those red-blooded beef eaters  — protein is not hard to get, and vegetarians can be just as tough in any kind of fitness contest. The abundance of fresh produce in Costa Rica make it veggie friendly. Lots of rice and beans of course, although availability of some nuts and spices is restricted in smaller centres, so a little supply planning can help.

And there are an ever increasing number of vegetarian restaurants. Going veggie is not boring. My old meat diet was relatively tasteless. Now I go for dishes like veg chile, curry chickpea, and spicy biryani. If you want to just cut down on meat, try eating some salad beans first. Beans are filling but not fattening, so you will be less hungry for the meat dish that follows.

And while we're at it, try to avoid anything containing palm oil. Not only is it one of the most unhealthy oils, expanding palm plantations are now the greatest threat to the remaining rain forests of the world. The tiny bit of wildlife in the millions of acres of CR palm plantations are visitors from the surrounding, more natural areas. Pura vida.
R. Martin

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 26, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 103

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Sniper suspect's past raises plenty of questions for officials
By Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The case of the U.S. citizen accused of killing his neighbor in a sniper spree Thursday night seems to have plenty of blame to go around.

The suspect, Frederick Norman Kelch, 48, came out of his house after nine hours of negotiations and turned himself over to judicial agents Friday morning. See story HERE!

But this was not the first time Kelch would make Costa Rican headlines. The research is still incomplete because Costa Rica officials are hard to reach on the weekend, but it appears that Kelch had a history of contact with the Mafia.

He seems to have been living in San Vicente de Moravía on an expired tourist visa. Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, confirmed Friday that Kelch has lived here for eight years.

But what Rojas did not say is that the man was profiled in a La Nación news story in January 2003 for administering an illegal bookmaking operation and possible Mafia ties.
Rojas did say that Kelch had had previous convictions in New York State on charges of drug possession and robbery with a firearm. 

Rojas added however, that the Judicial Investigation Organization had never received complaints from neighbors or had they received reports that Kelch had previously fired a gun in the area. Neighbors say they have filed complaints but no investigators came to talk to them.

Had Rojas consulted the La Nación article he would also have learned that Kelch had been investigated for running an illegal bookmaking operation with Joseph “Junior” Fafone in Rochester New York. Kelch also ran a gambling operation in the San Pedro Mall with Fafone, according to the article.

Fafone and his father, also Joseph, were associates of one of the leading members of the Gambino crime family, according to a Broward, Florida, sheriff's report in 2003.
“Both face state bookmaking charges for collecting bets and making cash payoffs locally on wagers placed in Costa Rica via toll-free telephone and Internet Web site links. Both Fafones have extensive past criminal records,” according to the sheriff's report.

La Nación also said Kelch had extensive convictions in the state of Florida and New York, for crimes such as house robberies, possession of a firearm by a convict, and drug possession.

A.M. Costa Rica at the time published a wire service story that was based in part on the La Nación disclosures.

The key questions did not come up at the Rojas press conference. He did not address why Kelch had been allowed to stay in the country while working on a tourist visa. His prior convictions would seem to make him ineligible for any form of residency.

A report after the shooting said that Kelch was here on a tourist visa that expired in April. This would suggest that the man has made repeated trips out of the country or availed himself of some of the fake immigration stamps that are so prevalent in the sportsbook and online gambling business.

Many foreign "tourists" are working with the tacit approval of the Costa Rican government.

Agents say that Kelch used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot from his rooftop in Moravía and kill a neighbor.

The shooting took place at about 11 p.m. Friday when a masked man climbed onto a rooftop in Vicente de Moravía and fired an AR-15 rifle, riddling the neighborhood with bullets. One of the bullets struck Harlen Fonseca Reyes, 28, a neighbor and a young physician, in the head. The sniper seemed to be shooting off rounds with no direction, said Rojas Friday, but added that investigators were still not sure.

Rojas said that he was concerned about where the sniper had obtained such a dangerous weapon, and that was one of the things being investigated.

runners and cyclists protest photo
Some of the demonstrators carry signs demanding respect from motorists.
Bike riders, runners and others take to the street to demand road safety
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An organization that seeks to represent the athletic community in the war of the highways staged a demonstration Saturday at Parque la Sabana and then participants marched to the nearby Rohrmoser home of President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

The non-profit organization, the Asociación de Deportistas Contra la Violencia Vial y el Irrespeto, was formed late last
year to counter the number of accidents involving cyclists and runners on the nation's highways.
The group carried signs that said, among other slogans, that the highways were not just for cars.

Arias was not home. He still was in transit from a medical visit to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but the group delivered a manifesto calling for highway improvements and better training and stronger enforcement of the traffic law.

The organization estimated the attendance at more than 300. Ramón Pendones, organization president, was one of those run down by a vehicle on the highway, according to the association.

Sardinal protest draws anti-development demonstrators from the Central Valley
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local dispute in Sardinal over the construction of a water line is rapidly growing into an anti-development magnet for those who opposed the free trade treaty with the United States and the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

An e-mail campaign designed to rally Central Valley residents went out Friday. A number of so-called patriotic committees conducted a caravan to Sardinal Saturday. Supporters also were urged to go by a bus being operated by members of the union of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. The bus was to leave San José at 3 a.m. The e-mailings also blame Arias for a food crisis.

The demonstrators managed to block a main road near
Sardinal for about two hours Saturday.

Pipelines were burned in anger May 12 by citizens of Sardinal. An aquifer near the town is to supply the water. A confrontation between protesters and police left 11 injured Wednesday.

The pipeline would bring much-needed water to the communities in Playas Hermosa and Ocotal. A group of 32 private businesses formed a trust with the Banco de Costa Rica to collect $8 million for the project, which is named Coco Water.

The insurance institute union is involved in the protest in part to vent frustrations over a legislative measure that opens the national insurance market to private firms. 

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fourth news page

Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 26, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 103

Rains not always an economic blessing for local stores
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Most downtown businesses would prefer the rain to stop. A few, however, say the downpour is great for sales.

Anyone walking on the pedestrian boulevard during one of San Jose's frequent torrents will see dozens of people lined up near the storefronts, trying not to get wet. The afternoons and early evenings have been marked by downpours for a week as the country enters the rainy season.

Many of the shelter seekers run into stores for cover but they never buy anything, complained sales representatives. “A lot of people stand under that awning there,” motioned a sales representative at Zapotos shoe store. “People come inside too, but not to shop, just to stay dry.” Sales clerks at Zapotos agreed that during the last few days sales have been very low. The recent showers, which seem even harsher than usual, perhaps due to a passing tropical wave, have driven business down, said sales agents.

Isaias Solano Herrera, a cashier at El Universal department store, said that low sales are frequent during rain storms. “Some people buy things, but most just come in to escape the rain,” said Solano, who added sales were down at Universal over the weekend.
Places like cafés and grocery stores said there is little difference in customer flow during harsh showers. Wilson Rodríguez, who's worked at Spoon café for three years, said the last days of rain have brought client numbers down a little, but nothing to be worried about. “This is low season everywhere,” he said, “but customers always come.”

There was no shortage of people at The Sportmen's Lodge Saturday night. The place was packed just as the evening rains were ending. Most of the crowd was there for the weekly fight night on television, so it was hard to tell if the rain played a role in their decision to visit.

The McCafé in the downtown McDonalds was full during the downpours Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, said Jessica Mena, a barista at the café. “Usually people want to come inside and drink a hot coffee,” said Ms. Mena. It depends on the day, but usually the rain helps business, said the barista. Customers warm up on sofas and wait for the rain to pass rather than waiting it out under the dripping awnings.

The manager at supermarket, Mas x Menos, said business stays relatively the same during the rain. “Business goes way down at the stores in the mall, but not here,” said Oscar Sandoval, the manager. Since groceries are a necessity and most supermarkets are on the highway or in downtown areas, business doesn't fade, said Sandoval.

Months predicted to drier for northern zone and Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather experts say more of the same for this week with afternoon downpours throughout most of the nation, including the drought-plagued northern zone.

But the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional reports that the long-term forecast is for less than average rainfall in the north. The central government declared a national emergency there Thursday because of the lack of water in the region.

The weather prediction is for normal to drier months from June to October. This comes on top of a period of four months when the northern zone saw 35 percent less than the average for rain, said the weather institute.

The Caribbean coast also is likely to suffer from lack of rain. Already the area is down from 15 to 30 percent in accumulated rainfall, said the institute. Although July
 usually brings the most rain to the Caribbean coast, this year the weather institute predicts a dry spell from June until August.

The deficiencies in rainfall are being blamed on the last of cold fronts bringing conditions suitable for precipitation to the northern zone and the Caribbean, said the institute

The rest of the country is likely to have higher than average rainfalls, said the institute.

Some damage already has taken place as a result of rain. In Alvarado de Cartago residents battled over the weekend with a mudslide that closed off the community Saturday. Mud was up to the knees in some places, residents said. Desamparados also suffered from some flooding.

About 2 inches of rain fell in the Cartago area Saturday. San José had about 2 inches Saturday and about 1.4 inches Sunday.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 26, 2007, Vol. 8, No. 103

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.


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Colombian prosecutor begins probe of rebel links

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's chief prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, says he is investigating opposition politicians, journalists, and foreigners, for suspected rebel ties following information obtained from seized rebel computers earlier this year.

Iguaran says he has also asked the Colombian supreme court to investigate three lawmakers, including Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who helped Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez broker the recent release of six rebel hostages.

Costa Rican lawmakers have empaneled a special committee to investigate links with lawmakers and other political figures here. The case already has led to the firing of Fernando Berrocal, the Costa Rican security minister, who suggested that some political organizations here had links with the rebel terrorists

The Colombian government has claimed that a laptop computer found in a March 1 raid on a rebel camp inside Ecuador contains information proving the guerrillas receive support from the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador. Both President Chávez and Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, deny the accusations. The rebels, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, has rejected the Colombian government's claims. Sen. Cordoba has said her contacts with the rebels were efforts to mediate the release of rebel hostages.

The investigation was announced as Colombian President Álvaro Uribe attempts to grapple with scandals within his administration.

More than 30 members of Colombia's congress, mainly Uribe allies, have been jailed or are under investigation for alleged links to right-wing paramilitary groups. The United States has designated the paramilitaries, along with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias and another leftist rebel group as terrorist organizations.

Colombian rebels confirm
death of long-time leader

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A top official for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia appeared in a video aired on Venezuelan television Sunday confirming the death of the 78-year-old guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda. He said the group's maximum leader had suffered a heart attack in March, saying he died "in the arms of his partner." He said Alfonso Cano would take over the top spot from Marulanda.

Colombia's military had called on rebels late Saturday to confirm or deny intelligence reports suggesting that Marulanda was dead.

Marulanda's death is the latest blow to the guerrilla movement, which has been blamed for scores of killings and atrocities in its 40-year history. Colombia's military killed the group's second in command Raul Reyes during a raid inside Ecuador March 1. Another top official, Ivan Rios, was killed by his security chief, who later turned himself into police and received a reward of $2.5 million for the leader's death.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, May 26, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 103

New Zealand driver wins big Memorial Day race in States
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Scott Dixon of New Zealand has won the Indianapolis 500 mile race in Indiana, holding off the field in the 92nd edition of the annual race.

Dixon, who was the pole sitter, best starting position, took the checkered flag Sunday ahead of Vitor Meira. The Brazilian appeared in position to win. But Dixon edged in
front after the last stop for fuel and held on for the final 29 laps.

American Marco Andretti placed third ahead of two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil.

The win was Dixon's first at the event also known as "The Great American Race." American Danica Patrick did not finish the race after her car was hit and disabled in the pit.

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