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These stories were published Wednesday, June 1, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 107
Jo Stuart
About us
San José operation called 'virtual wire room'
Mob-protected gaming ring tied to sportsbook
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A major New York bust of a $360 million gambling operation has revealed mob links with gangsters who had ties to a sportsbook in Costa Rica.

Some 36 individuals have been indicted with allegations that they were part of an illegal gambling ring. What makes the operation unique is that gamblers and bet runners made use of a Costa Rican Internet-based business as a virtual wire room for the ring, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

The Costa Rican operation was identified as Safe Deposit Sports in a summary of the indictments released by the District Attorney’s Office. The firm’s Web site was identified as Officials said the company operates out of a San José shopping mall. The ring also had wire rooms where bets were placed in Kew Gardens Hills and Flushing, both sections around New York City.

The administrative contact for is Pablo Quiros Valenciano, who has a e-mail address, according to a lookup of the Safe Deposit Internet domain. is a well-known Internet gambling company here which says on its Web site that it is the largest in the world and that it is traded publicly.

Brown said the ring in New York was a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise controlled by the Bonanno organized crime family.

The indictment also alleges that the ring used the non-traditional wire room in the form of the off-shore, internet-based gambling service used by bettors and runners to actually place their wagers. It is alleged that the ring used the off-shore wire room to maintain numerous runners' and bettors' gambling accounts through the Internet Web site in an effort to evade law enforcement detection through traditional methods.

Law enforcement crackdowns on traditional mob-run wire rooms have led to the use by illegal gambling rings of off-shore gambling Web sites where action is available around the clock, the Queens District Attorney’s Office said. Traditional wire rooms are places where bookmakers accept bets via the telephone.

Bettors can click on an off-shore gambling Web site over the Internet and be assigned individual login codes and passwords. Their wagers and win-loss amounts are recorded in sub-accounts maintained in runner's and agent's accounts, the District Attorney’s Office explained, adding that these gambling Web sites typically store information on computer servers outside the United States and bounce their data through a series of server nodes in efforts to evade law enforcement.

Gambling operations are legal in Costa Rica.

All of the 36 persons arrested were in the United States. The ring is alleged to have 

Queens District Attorney’s Office photo
District Attorney Richard A. Brown and New York Police Inspector James O'Neil discuss the arrests and display some evidence.

handled up to 2,000 bets a day for some $500,000. Jan. 23 during the National Football League playoffs the ring took in $2.5 million, said the indictment.

All was not profit, said the indictment, which reported that the gambling ring used a toll-free number for bettors that generated a monthly bill of $50,000.

According to the indictment, reputed Bonanno captain Anthony "Tony Green" Urso — identified in the indictment as an unindicted co-conspirator — received a monthly tribute from the gambling operation in exchange for the protection of the Bonanno crime family.

The Brooklyn-based Bonanno organization, named after former long-time boss Joe Bonanno, makes up one of the five major Mafia families in the New York area.

District Attorney Brown said that the investigation leading to the arrests began in January 2003 when detectives assigned to the Police Department’s Organized Crime Control Bureau developed information about an illegal betting ring and began a joint investigation with the District Attorney's Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau. The investigation included physical surveillance, intelligence information and court-authorized electronic eavesdropping that intercepted over 50,000 conversations.

The indictment charges that the ring used 25 runners, including Dominic Valila, the head groundskeeper at Shea Stadium, who maintained lists of bettors, paid their wins and collected their losses and recruited new bettors to the bookmaking enterprise. 

It was further alleged that each of the ring's "runners" in exchange for a share of the ring's gambling profits managed his own group of bettors by accepting and relaying bets or by providing bettors with a phone number and runner's code for a particular wire room, then settling up their bettors' win-loss amounts.

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Power shortage draws
decree of emergency

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The President of Nicaragua, Enrique Bolaños Geyer, has suspended by presidential decree the constitutional rights to petition, assembly and protest as well as access to the court system. Also suspended are the rights to immediate injunctive relief (recurso de amparo and recurso de exhibición personal) as complementary measures. All the suspensions are part of a decree of an economic state of emergency. 

The decree includes an immediate emergency energy rate increase in an effort to solve the continuing crisis of power generation in Nicaragua. The constitutional rights that are specifically suspended are contained in articles, 32, 45 and 52 of the Nicaraguan Constitution. These rights, by presidential decree, are suspended for a term of six months unless the decree is rejected by the National Assembly. 

The president also decreed an 11.83 percent rate increase in favor of Unión Fenosa, the Spanish multinational energy provider, increasing the cost of electrical energy for all Nicaraguan consumers of more than 150 kilowatt hours in one month. Energy suppliers to Unión Fenosa had turned off a portion of the generating system last week forcing the Nicaraguan government to purchase electrical energy from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad in Costa Rica at higher marginal prices to cover the energy shortfall and avoid blackouts.

The suspension of constitutional rights is unprecedented in modern Nicaraguan history. All of the members of the cabinet, with the notable exception of Vice President Jose Rizo, signed the decree in public support of Bolaños. Rizo refused to sign the document stating that it was an "additional attempt to cause friction between the legislative and executive branches of government." Bolaños retorted by stating that Rizo was a "solitary voice and playing games."

Bolaños also announced that he was informing the United Nations of his actions as well as the Organization of American States, which already is scheduled to discuss the Nicaraguan political situation in a meeting next week.

The National Assembly has only 72 hours to accept, reject or modify the declared state of emergency from the date of publication in La Gazeta, the national journal of Nicaraguan governmental affairs.

Both major political parties have sworn to reject the decree which may be acted upon as early as today. Wilfredo Navarro, vice president of the National Assembly, declared that the entire state of emergency was a "smoke screen" for the benefit of Unión Fenosa and an effort to gather power in a continuing battle by Bolaños against the National Assembly. 

Sandinista Deputy José Figueroa stated that his party categorically rejects the suspension of Nicaraguan constitutional rights without giving details regarding further legislative actions. The veto, if in fact voted upon by the deputies, will be easily rejected as 82 of the 92 votes of the Assembly are controlled by the Partido Liberal Constitutionalista and Sandinista.

Political commentators also noted that the Dirección General de Impuestos, the Nicaraguan tax agency, was commencing an audit process for all of the individual returns of the members of the Assembly. This announcement is the latest salvo in the war between governmental powers. 

Deputies had cut $1.8 million dollars from the DGI budget last week purportedly in retaliation for the enforcement of a tax lien imposed by DGI against the bank accounts of the assembly. The DGI said the lien was  due to the alleged failure of the assembly to collect taxes from its members and staff.

Ban on older cars hits
some potholes in road

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government seems to have backed off a plan to bar all imports of older vehicles to Costa Rica. President Abel Pacheco was supposed to hand down a decree banning vehicles older than seven years, but it appears that the rule will be delayed.

The measure generated a backlash among some members of the Asamblea Legislativa who saw it as a rule to benefit a handful of new car dealers in the country.

The measure was pushed by the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, which saw it as a way to curb air pollution.

Some individuals who import vehicles said they were concerned because they were not sure that true antiques had been waived in the proposed decree.

Pacheco was supposed to issue the decree Friday.

Stranded immigrants
getting lift back home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Ecuadorian navy vessel was due at Isla del Coco sometime overnight to pick up 88 South Americans left adrift at sea by persons who were supposed to smuggle them into the United States.

The group, half Ecuadorians and half Peruvians, were suffering health problems from their nine days at sea in a leaky boat. The drifting boat was found some 33 nautical miles west of Isla del Coco early Sunday and towed to the island which is a national park.

The Ecuadorian ship "Calicuchima" will take the stranded passengers to the Galapagos Islands where they will be able to obtain transport home, according to Costa Rican officials.

Golf tournament set
for Sunday on coast

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Costa Rica Global Association of Real Estate presents its Fourth Annual Charity Golf Tournament at Hacienda Pinilla Beach Resort and Residential Community in Guanacaste Sunday. 

Golf and other related activities also will take place Saturday. Proceeds from the tournament will benefit the Salvation Army organization. 

Saturday participants can play a practice round and use the driving range. Sunday the tournament itself will be a four-person scramble competition using a handicap system at the 7,300-yard, par 72, Mike Young-designed course, with an 8 a.m. shotgun start. An awards luncheon will follow at 1 p.m. 

Cost for the event is $100 per player and includes breakfast, lunch, cocktails, and bocas. For information or registration, contact Natalia Sancho at 653-1320/352-1598 or Tony DiMaggio at 653-0402/815-1200. 

Tourism group honors writer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Writer and sustainable development proponent Martha Honey, a long-time resident, received an award as a Friend of Costa Rica Tuesday night as the 21st annual edition of Expotur began.

Also honored was the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, which is 50 years old, and Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, the minister of the institute.

Expotur attracts tourism professionals from all over the world to learn about travel and adventure options in Costa Rica.

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thisis a space blocker 
Cabinet ministers applaud . . .
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
. . . while Pacheco and Castro confer

Pacheco and cabinet mount a defense on Papagayo
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco, under fire for ethical lapses, brought his whole cabinet to the routine Tuesday press conference that follows the Consejo de Gobierno. The ministers applauded vigorously when Pacheco defended himself.

His chief defender was Rodrigo A. Castro Fonseca, the minister of tourism, who denied there had been any funny business in the awarding of potentially lucrative concessions of land in the Papagayo project. In fact, he said, no concessions have been awarded yet.

Pacheco has been under fire in the Spanish-language press because of his involvement with a Spanish businessman who had been appointed an honorary consul in his hometown of Seville, Spain. The businessman, Bernardo Martín Moreno, also has business ties with former tourism minister Ruben Pacheco Lutz, who is seeking concessions in the Papagayo project in northwest Guanacaste.

The current tourism minister, Castro, characterized much of what had been published in newspapers as incorrect during the Tuesday press conference.

Later Tuesday, Martin announced that he was quitting as consul because of what he said was a witch hunt.

Meanwhile, La Nación was expected to say in its Wednesday editions that Pacheco had been the driving force behind the nomination of Martin to the foreign service post. In addition to being a businessman, Martín is the head of a foundation, Fundación Martín Robles, that just published a book written by President Pacheco.

The president’s chief of protocol quit Monday because newspapers revealed that he was doing legal work for Martín in addition to his Casa Presidencial job.

The latest controversy comes after Pacheco admitted accepting a free air flight from the United States to the Dominican Republic, a free membership in an exclusive club there and a free pass on TACA Airlines. All are presumed violations of recent anti-corruption laws.

The highpoint of the Tuesday press conference came when Pacheco asked that the tourism minister, Castro, confirm that he, the president, had never made any requests regarding the Papagayo concessions. Castro did just that.

The Papagayo project is being developed by the Instituto de Turismo under a special law that gives tourism officials the right to award concessions. Some major projects already have been finished there and the entire area around the gulf is expected to be the next Costa Rican gold coast.

Last-ditch effort made to find missing Canadian man
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A private organization is making a last-ditch effort to locate a Canadian man who vanished shortly after passing through Costa Rica in the year 2000.

The man is Chad Leo Eirikson, then 21, who has not been heard from since Jan. 12, 2000.

The Missing Children Society of Canada reports that it has created posters in Spanish and is distributing them to hostels, hospitals and tourist companies through Costa Rica, Panamá and French Guiana. The society also has set up a toll-free international number, 0800-015-0402, and a translator is available if non-English speakers call.

The man is described as being 5 feet, 10 inches tall with weight about 130 pounds. He has blue eyes and wavy brown hair that may have been dyed another color.

The society also accepts information at this e-mail address:

Eirikson last had indirect contact with his family in Paso Canoas on the Panamá side of the Costa Rican-Panamá border. He picked up a $150 Western Union moneygram there, said the society.

The man had been traveling in Costa Rica and had plans to go to French Guiana Jan. 6, 2000, the society said, adding that the man called his mother and said that he was in Nicaragua and had run out of money. She wired $500, and a man believed to be Eirikson picked it up.
Chad Leo Eirikson
Jan. 10 the man called home three more times and said he had spent all the money getting out of Nicaragua and that he needed money sent to the Panamá border, said the society.

After he vanished, his parents reported him missing to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta. The society said that the Canadian Embassy in Panamá investigated and determined that the man had crossed the Costa Rican border into Panamá Jan. 9, 2000, and did pick up the money from

his mother that Jan. 12.

The non-profit Missing Children Society of Canada has been on the case since 2001 and is making an effort now because the trail seems cold, said a statement.

Monetary Fund chief cites region's vulnerabilities
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Latin America is currently experiencing the fastest pace of economic expansion in decades, but should continue to confront challenges that could undermine stable growth and efforts to address poverty, says International Monetary Fund Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato.

In a statement issued Monday following his participation in a seminar, Rato said that the current high economic growth rates in the region are largely the result of sound economic policies and reforms. 

Despite such progress, Rato explained, much of the region continues to confront challenges and vulnerabilities. He cited high levels of public debt as one of the factors that limits a nation's ability to carry out social and public spending. The Monetary Fund 

official pointed out that many of the region's economies are also too closed and inflexible to fully benefit from globalization.

Rato said that regional governments should continue to focus on reducing vulnerabilities through continued fiscal consolidation. Other possible reforms discussed at the seminar included improving trade openness, advancing labor reforms, strengthening the efficiency and soundness of financial systems, and governance reforms to improve the investment climate. The IMF will continue to work with the region to these ends, Rato vowed.

"It goes without saying that the IMF remains committed to working in partnership with countries in the region to develop an agenda for growth and poverty reduction that takes into account their economic circumstances," he said.

New U.S. passport form puts personal info into barcode
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs has introduced a new online passport application form procedure. 

This new process will promote faster passport processing and reduce data entry errors by eliminating the need to manually enter data from handwritten passport applications, the bureau promised.  Under the online form process, applicants for U.S. passports will no longer have to handwrite personal data to fill out a passport application form. 

Instead, the applicant may electronically enter his or her personal information securely online and then print the finished form. The electronic entry system allows for the generation of a barcode on the printed form. This barcode is read by machine during the application process and reproduces the information electronically entered by the applicant. 

In order to ensure the privacy of data, the Department of State said it does not retain the data provided by applicants using this process. Once the application form is printed, the data provided to generate that form is automatically deleted. 

The online form may be accessed at this Web site.

Blank passport application forms may also be downloaded from that Web site. Completed passport application forms and accompanying documents may be submitted at any of the 6,000 passport application acceptance facilities around the United States or at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, said the bureau.

Last year, more than 8.8 million U.S. passports were issued to U.S. citizens. 

The department said it expects that it will issue more than 10 million U.S. passports this year. 

Honduran high court knocks down insult provision in its criminal laws
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras' highest court has ruled that a provision in the country's Penal Code which criminalizes press offences is unconstitutional and should be repealed. 

The Supreme Court of Justice ruled that Article 345 of the Penal Code restricted freedom of expression by giving special protection to public officials. "The privilege established under Article 345 of the Penal Code is an impediment to public criticism and 

discussion," the court declared. The ruling, effective immediately, repealed the article.

Article 345 contained the insult provision (desacato in Spanish), under which individuals could be jailed for up to six years for offending public officials, including the president. In its ruling, the Supreme Court cited a 1994 report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which said desacato laws violate the American Convention on Human Rights and should be repealed because they restrict the right to freedom of expression. Honduras is a signatory to the Convention. 

Jo Stuart
About us
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