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These stories wer published Monday, June 9, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 112
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Two investors worry about their money
The Vault becomes a target for possible buyout 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two key figures of The Vault S.A., a high-interest investment and financial firm, said they want to buy the company because they think is it being mismanaged by owner Roy Taylor.

Taylor, the founder of the firm, says he welcomes the buyout if the employees think they can do better — but on his terms.

Taylor also said that the firm just got a list of rules set down for it by the 
Superintendencia de Entidades Financieras that it would follow to the letter.

The Vault holdings may include as many as 50 separate companies that range from real estate to graphic design. The company markets itself through high-impact print ads and Web sites.

The two individuals are Rodney Strange, a vice president, and Kells Faulkner, the operations officer.  Ms Faulkner said the pair were frustrated in their efforts because Taylor would not provide them with a current customer list. She said she hoped to structure a buyout that included current customers as participants.

The two say that The Vault has fired the bulk of its employees and even had to struggle to make the last payroll. The two said that between them they hold 49 percent of Vault stock, but Taylor said he holds about 85 percent of the total Vault holdings which are held under multiple corporations. The company also told its investors in a May 6 memo that it was cutting the interest rate to 12 percent per year.

Taylor rejects the claims of Ms. Faulker and Strange. "I have stayed solvent in very difficult times," he said Sunday, adding that the company was stable and secure and would honor all obligations. However, he said that the company no longer will pay interest to its investors. That is one of the changes demanded by the Superintendencia de Entidades Financieras, he said.  That is the governmental regulatory agency.

The company through May 30 had credited those who have placed money in its keeping with interest ranging from 3 to 4 percent. Now, however, the firm will pay quarterly and annual dividends instead, said Taylor.

"We are the only people left standing," Taylor said of his company. He was referring to the collapse of the high-interest operation run by Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Camacho, Savings Unlimited, operated by Louis Milanes, The Costa Rica Green Fund, operated by Tom Jafek and a handful of smaller investment schemes.

Luis Enrique Villalobos and Milanes are international fugitives. Other names may be added to the list.

Taylor said he shouldered a lot of the collapse of the Green Fund because many of his customers also had money there. Jafek has a business relationship with the Vault, and there were some business contacts with the Villalobos Brothers and Savings Unlimited, according to a company source. But Taylor has said he shouldered the Green Fund loss voluntarily as a favor to his clients.

Ms. Faulkner said that the two new bars she runs in Jacó, Crocodile Rock and Filthy McNasty’s are not really involved in the problems of the larger corporation, although Crocodile Rock is closed while she tried to get the landlord to make needed repairs to the 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
The Vault has a number of real estate holdings around town, like this one on Avenida 1: a vacant building for rent adjacent to the Condo Kings office.
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Rodney Strange and Kells Faulkner think they need to take over The Vault to protect investors’ money.

electrical system. She said she owns 65 percent of the corporations that hold the liquor licenses and other assets of the bars.

The two officials of the firm estimated that some $30 million of outside money is invested in The Vault. The firm’s Web site characterizes the company as a $100 million business. Although the Web site says that the company employs 210 persons, Ms. Faulker said that most have been fired, most after the company held a gala February grand opening of its international headquarters on the downtown San José  Avenida Principal pedestrian mall just a few feet east of Calle 5.

Although there were many different deals tailored to investors, those who put money with the company expected to receive from 3 to 4 percent a month for their money. Both Ms. Faulkner and Strange said that payments to investors stopped about two months ago. They said that many bills have not been paid by The Vault. Both are substantial investors, and Ms. Faulkner said she invested more than $3 million with Taylor.

Taylor denied that monthly payments stopped and said the company is structured so that will not happen. He did admit to a cash shortage, in part due to the Green Fund collapse, but this situation is clearing up, he said. Recently the company has not been advertising as aggressively.

The Vault operates restaurants, develops land and runs a real estate brokerage. The company operates Falcon Crest, a condominium-hotel project at Rancho Mirador, Naranjo, Condo Kings, and the La Palma Restaurant in Barrio Amon, according to the firm’s Nicaraguan Web site.

Taylor also has a firm, Casino Central S.A., that predates The Vault S.A. and has an interest in Gordy’s Restaurant on Avenida 1 at Calle 7. His wife, Lilliam Corrales Barquero, is considered an active part of the management team. A helicopter service, once a Vault promotional item, now is owned by others.

Taylor’s efforts in the Central Valley have not been without setbacks. He set up the Jungle Casino in the Balmoral Hotel. That operation went into other hands and folded.  He also is involved in litigation with Brian L. Smith of San Francisco de San Isidro de Heredia. Smith says he managed a fiber optics operation for Taylor involving  illumination of pools, casinos and similar. Both Smith and Taylor have filed criminal charges against each other, but none has come to court.

In a fatal incident, a 17-year-old Nicaraguan dancer from Jacó died on a yacht jointly owned by the Taylors, Jafek and others.  That happened last August, and the man who brought the woman on board was Joseph Christopher Azzara, a U.S. citizen, said police at the time.

News stories did not connect the case with Taylor because Azzara, a former radio disk jockey here, uses his on-air name, Joseph King, in his business dealings. At the time he was vice president of The Vault. The death of Ivelca Concepción Chavarría Moncada was attributed to an overdose of cocaine and still is under investigation.

Azzara later went to Nicaragua, and Taylor and Ms. Faulkner said at the time he had been fired by the firm because he was not permitted to host parties on the boat. It was docked at Los Sueños Marina. Investigators still would like to talk with him.

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Yugi is surrounded by all kinds of strange stuff in this Japanese poster.

Deputy attacks Yugi et al.
for assaults on values

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A national deputy has decried the attacks on Christian values he sees coming from the Yu-Gi-Oh games and trading cards.

For anyone above the age of 11, the name might seem strange. But the adventures of Yugi and his friends appear on television 11 times a week on the Warner Channel. The story line originated in a comic series from artist Kazuki Takahashi that first appeared in Japan in 1996. Now it is on television, on videos and DVDs and soon Nintendo will have role-playing games based on the characters.

The deputy is Carlos Avendaño of the Partido Renovación Costarricense. He asked the Ministerio de Educación Pública and the Oficina de Control de Espectáculos Públicos to take out of circulation materials associated with the game.

He said the material was harmful to youth because it makes allusions to spirits and invocations. He said in the country’s schools children are playing with trading cards that invoke demons and have drawings of monsters and of women in erotic poses. In all, it is black magic, he said at the Asamblea Nacional.

He called upon parents not to purchase the material for their children and suggested that teachers should not let children play with the material in schools.

The trading cards and the games follow the adventures of Yugi and his friends from the Yu-Gi-Oh! animated TV show as they strive to escape from the sinister virtual world in which they have been trapped, said a commercial Web page.

A release from Konami Corp., maker of electronic games featuring the characters, said the games are recognized for accurately capturing the deeply strategic and challenging gameplay of the trading card game. 

The firm said that it has shipped a combined total of 3.1 million units of Yu-Gi-Oh! videogames in North America since the series’ debut in March
2002. Konami has released four Yu-Gi-Oh! videogames that have each consistently ranked in the Top 3 of their respective sales charts according to industry analyst, the firm said.

Then Yu-Gi-Oh! Debuts this Fall 2003 on Nintendo GameCube, PC CD-ROM and in Nintendo GameBoy Advance, the firm said.
 

Gas attack on bus

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two youths boarded a public bus about 7:40 p.m. Saturday and threw what seemed to be mustard gas at some of the passengers. Two had to be hospitalized. The youths fled after the incident near the Banco  Popular in  San  Pedro.

New agreement clarifies
governance ICE clause

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Presidencia of Costa Rica said Friday that there will be no co-governance of the country in the hands of unions and that negotiations for the free trade treaty with the United States will remain firmly in the hands of Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior.

The statement by Ricardo Toledo Carranza, the new minister of the Presidencia, ended speculation that he had given away a lot of power to the unions in his zeal to end the strike by workers at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

A clause in the agreement ending the strike seemed to obligate the government to setting up integrated commissions that would include union membership to supervise a number of different areas on governance, including free trade treaty negotiations.

Toledo had to go out Friday and get an addendum to the original agreement approved by union leadership. Then he announced late Friday afternoon what had been done.

The mechanisms set up by the agreement ending the strike in no way substitutes for the power and competence of the government authorities, said the amendment.

Toledo rejected the interpretation that suggested the unions would enter into some sort of co-governance. He also said he did not have any basic disagreement with Trejos. Rumors circulated Thursday that Trejos was about to resign because of the agreement and what he saw as an intrusion into the negotiations. But Trejos denied such intentions in a television interview after talking with President Abel Pacheco.
 

Bradford 
Lee 
Schneider

California fugitive caught
working in musical group

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who fled his trial in U.S. federal court in California turned up Saturday in the hands of investigators. They said he spent his time in Costa Rica under an assumed name working in a musical group.

The arrest took place in Naranjillo de Quepos, and the individual arrested is named Bradford Lee Schneider. The arrest was made by the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad, agents of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) and investigators from the Aguirre office of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Schneider was being sought to face charges of possessing a firearm and also marijuana production. During a drug flight over his 72-acre property in Paraíso, California, Oct. 31, 2001, police spotted what they thought was marijuana, police said.

After a raid and an arrest, Schneider was set free on $100,000 bail for a trial in May 2002. He did not appear.

Arresting officers here said that Schneider had changed his name to Lincoln Rojas and was performing in a group called Fuzzy Rojas. He arrived here in 2001, they said. He is being held for extradition actions in the Tribunal Penal Primer Circuito de San José, said investigators.


 
 
Immigration police
are working overtime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration police have been picking up illegal residents wholesale. 

Over the weekend they caught 10 foreigners in Limón who will be deported. In San José they investigated 90 foreigners and detained 46 Nicaraguans, two of whom were sought for questioning in assaults.

In Guanacaste three of 62 foreigners investigated will be deported. And in Puntarenas 15 Nicaraguans will be deported from among 40 investigated.

The three persons caught in Limón who will be deported are merchant seamen from the cargo ship Alicante Carrior, which carried a flag from The  Bahamas, and belongs to Delmonte, said police. The three men, all from Latvia, the former Baltic Soviet republic, got off the ship without going through immigration procedures, said police.

The new push by immigration police comes after the Sala IV constitutional court dismissed a challenge to the immigration law that had halted jailings and deportations for two months.
 

Loan for coast road
finally gets approval

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional has approved a loan that will pay for the final construction of the Costanera Sur, the highway from Manuel Antonio to Dominical.

The loan, for $60 million is from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica, an internationally financed body. The government will add $22 million. The action last Thursday was expected because President Abel Pacheco supported the measure and already had signed the loan papers. But the deal needed final approval from deputies.
 

Martin trial starts
this week in Golfito

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Trial has been set for next Thursday and Friday in the murder case of U.S. student Shannon Martin, 23, who died May 13, 2001, in Golfito.

The trial will be in the Tribunal de Juicio de la Zona Sur, and three persons are facing what equates to a first-degree murder charge. The three suspects include a woman identified by her surname of Cruz Murillo and two men with the last names of Castro Carrillo y Zumbado Quirós

The crime has been classified as either a robbery gone bad or a vengeance killing. Miss Martin was stabbed at least 14 times in the back, far more than necessary to cause her death.

The woman was believed to be in possession of an article of clothing of Miss Martin when she was arrested. She implicated the two men, but there does not seem to be any physical evidence in the case at all.

Some 17 persons are scheduled to testify. Miss Martin was a University of Kansas senior who soon would have graduated. She was said to be here to finish a senior biology project.
 

Don’t take television
from local church!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican justice frequently is criticized as lenient. That does not apply to burglarizing a church.

A man with the last name of Gómez Solís broke into the La Hermosa de Cairo church in Siquirres and took a television and remote control. He got six years in prison last week. That’s the same length sentence given to a man who stuck a gun in the face of a motorcycle operator in Desamparado and stole the vehicle. That sentence to a man named Mora Arronis also was handed down last week.
 

Suicide in Escazú

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man identified as a German citizen died in Escazú Friday afternoon from what police said was a suicide. The man, identified as Peter Marten Pelzneuret, 68, died in his home, police said. He is survived by a wife.

Man shot to death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man died Saturday about 6 p.m. on Avenida 2 in busy downtown San José when he was shot after a verbal dispute with other men. He died on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Talamaca.
 
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Tiny black woman was giant in old Negro League
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a time when African-Americans were generally excluded from mainstream sports, female baseball legend Mamie "Peanut" Johnson said the old Negro Baseball League "provided me with invaluable opportunities."

Johnson, one of only three females who ever played in the Negro League, the black professional baseball league that paralleled the segregated white baseball leagues until the 1950s, was here Thursday for a discussion on the achievements of African-Americans in baseball hosted by The Library of Congress.

"The Negro League was the backbone of the black community at the time. It gave me a sense of responsibility to myself and to others," Johnson attested.

At 17, Johnson tried out for a place on a professional women's baseball team, but was rejected because of her race. Before her tryout for the female league, Johnson said she had not been exposed to the "ignorance" of racial segregation.

"I was just as talented and looked just as good playing baseball as the white female players did," she said, "but I was never even considered to play in the league. That's when I realized what segregation meant."  But the rejection did not hinder her success. Since there was no black equivalent of the white women's league, Johnson tried out with and went on to play in the men's Negro Leagues, which featured legends such as Satchel Paige, whom she says helped her perfect her curveball.

"I'm proud to say I struck out some of the best there was," Johnson explained regarding her competitive nature with the male players. "I got to meet and play with some of the best baseball players that ever picked up a bat."

Johnson got her nickname, "Peanut," when another male player made a false assumption about her abilities because she was a woman and "small in size."

Johnson recalled, "He said I wasn't any bigger than a peanut, so how did I expect to strike anyone out?" Her response to the challenge: "Well, I struck him out."

After that, Johnson was a "peanut" only in name. The other players regarded her abilities as anything but small and to her teammates, she was just another member of the team regardless of her gender. "I was accepted and treated very well by the other male players," Johnson remarked about the "wonderful gentlemen" she played with.

Mamie
Johnson
during playing days
as seen 
on her
baseball
trading 
card.

Johnson fit right in reminiscing with the other former Negro League players participating in the Library of Congress discussion. Wilmer Fields of the Homestead Grays and Ernest Burke of the Baltimore Elite Giants, along with Johnson, recalled their baseball days with only the fondest memories.

"The best days of my life were when I was playing baseball," Johnson reminisced.

According to South Carolina African American History Online, Johnson started her baseball career with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, winning 33 games and losing only 8 by the end of her career. Her batting average ranged from .262 to .284.

Johnson left the Negro Leagues in 1955, but the game never really left her. Currently, she runs the Negro League's Memorabilia Shop in Prince George's County, Maryland and she also coaches all-star baseball teams.

Now, with a seemingly short baseball career under her belt, her legend status has far exceeded the number of games she played.

"We loved the game," she said, "back then, none of the rest of it mattered, not even the money."

The first black baseball league was organized in 1920 in response to black exclusion from the major league white teams and a need for organization among black teams. For 50 years, two spheres of baseball existed, one black and one white.

This changed when Jackie Robinson crossed the color line in 1947 and signed to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Over the next decade, the Negro Leagues slowly dwindled as more and more black players signed contracts with Major League Baseball, effectively integrating the sport.


 
Guatemala puts freeze on adoption of children
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office is considering a temporary suspension of new adoption cases, based on concerns raised during a  meeting at the Hague, Holland, last month with other signatory states to the Hague Convention, according to Casa Alianza.

Guatemala is the fourth largest source of children for international adoptions after China, Russia and South Korea, the child advocacy group pointed out. Some 60 percent of the children adopted from 

Guatemala go to the United States and less than 3 percent to other Guatemalan families, Casa Alianza said.

Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and other countries have frozen adoptions from Guatemala because of the concerns for corruption in international adoptions, the organization said.

 "Adopting families should not file for adoption in Guatemala until the current  problems are resolved," Casa Alianza said quoting the U.S. State Department.


 
Powell traveling to Chile and later to Argentina
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell is in South America attending the 33rd annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Santiago, Chile, today, followed by a visit to Buenos Aires Tuesday to meet with new Argentine President Nestor Kirchner. The secretary's trip is part of an "intensified" U.S. focus on Latin America, according to a senior State Department official.

The General Assembly, the State Department official said, will provide Powell and regional leaders an opportunity to take stock of regional challenges and discuss raising the standards for good governance in the Western Hemisphere in order to attract investment opportunity.

The official acknowledged that several Latin American nations face economies that are "bottoming out" and political challenges stemming from popular disenchantment, but said the "good news" is that the region's leaders remain committed to sound free-market policies, an ambitious trade agenda, democracy, and the rule of law. He added that as the hemisphere confronts its challenges, "U.S. engagement and commitment has never been more crucial."

The United States is actively involved in the hemisphere, in part through its co-chairmanship (with Brazil) of Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, launch of trade talks with Central America, renewal and expansion of trade preferences for Andean nations, and participation in the "Group of Friends" nations that are working to facilitate an end to Venezuela's political crisis.

Despite what he described as an "already robust" U.S. engagement with the region, the official said that Powell's South American trip — coupled with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's White House visit June 20 and the June 6 signing of the U.S. free-trade agreement with Chile — is part of an "intensified" U.S. focus on the hemisphere.

The senior official said he does not anticipate Latin American opposition to the war in Iraq to cast a shadow over the General Assembly, as there is an "agreement to disagree on the subject." Instead, regional leaders are eager to work together to advance common goals, he said, adding that most observers expect the final declaration issued at the Assembly to reaffirm regional commitment to shared values. Discussion of the political crises in Haiti and Venezuela will also be on the assembly agenda, he predicted.

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