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These stories were published Wednesday, June 25, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 124
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Morgue workers and agents remove the body of Roy Taylor to a waiting vehicle in front of his firm’s new offices.
Saray Ramírez Vindas/A.M. Costa Rica
Suicide by Vault owner is dark ending to raids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The much anticipated raid on The Vault investment firm turned into a tragedy Tuesday when Roy Taylor, the company’s principal, managed to get his handcuffed hands on a pistol and shot himself in the head fatally.

The suicide was a dark ending to a day that saw multiple raids at Vault properties in San José,

Jacó and other points in the Central Valley.

The firm paid investors 3 percent a month until recently when payments stopped, and Taylor bragged that his firm was the last such business standing. That was a reference to the collapse of a handful of similar firms over the last eight months.

See our stories BELOW!


Woman client said she had an afternoon appointment to withdraw her money from The Vault.
A.M. Costa Rica photos
Investigators unload stacks of cardboard boxes that will be used to pack items and documents from the premises of The Vault.

Vault workers in distinctive uniforms talk to an agent shortly after one witnessed the suicide.
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Saray Ramírez Vindas/A.M. Costa Rica
The scene on the pedestrian mall near The Vault after unexpected suicide.
Taylor's suicide throws future of firm in jeopardy
By Jay Brodell and Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The unexpected suicide of Vault owner Roy Taylor has placed the future of the investment firm and its clients money in jeopardy, and no one is sure if the operation can be salvaged.

Taylor took his own life in a bathroom inside his $1.5 million, renovated international headquarters while handcuffed and in the custody of the Judicial Investigating Organization about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

There is no official information available about the death, but one investigator said that Taylor, who had been in custody at his office for five hours, asked to go to the bathroom. He did so alone and either had a weapon hidden on his person or in a secret spot in the bathroom.

He shot himself in the head and then fell backwards through the bathroom door shocking investigators and female Vault employees nearby.

Taylor, a large man in his late 50s, called his firm the leading financial adviser in Latin America. He was arrested by agents, prosecutors and a judge who raided his downtown San José international headquarters about 10 a.m. Tuesday. Security outside was provided by the Policia Municipal of San José.

At the same time, at least 80 other police officers and prosecutors conducted raids on perhaps as many as 15 Vault properties, including a Vault office in the Los Arcades building some 300 meters to the west. That was the headquarters until Taylor moved the operation into the more visible structure on the pedestrian mall just a few feet east of the Plaza de la Cultura. The firm paid $1.2 million for the structure and spent $300,000 in renovations for a grand opening just last February.

There was no prior warning that Taylor was about to take his own life. He did not resist when prosecutors and police arrived. They brought an ambulance because Taylor had been hospitalized last week. However, the vehicle and fireman paramedics left about two hours later.

Investigators brought a fried fish meal to Taylor about noon, and distributed sandwiches to others there.

At the same building investigators detained Aracelly Valverde, Taylor’s chief bookkeeper. At the Taylor apartment in Plaza Azur in Barrio Amon, other agents detained his wife, Lilliam Corrales Barquero. His wife does not hold a formal role in the company but was considered second only to Taylor by employees. Both women were placed for the night in the holding cells in the basement of the Tribunales de Justicia in the San José court complex.

The investigatory raids were prompted by formal complaints filed by Kells Faulkner, chief operating officer, and Rodney Strange, a vice president in the firm’s graphic division. They alleged fraud and financial intermediation. Ms. Faulkner, who operates Filthy McNasty’s and Crocodile Rock in Jacó said she had invested about $3 million with the firm. Strange also is an investor.

Taylor attracted investments from a mostly North American clientele by boasting of his many companies in multiple full-page advertisements in The Tico Times, an English-language weekly. He once said he spent $45,000 a year with the newspaper.

At times it seemed that Taylor would create a new division every week. The firm’s Web site http://www.the-vault.biz/ characterizes the company as a $100 million business. Although the Web site says that the company employs 210 persons, most had been let go since last April.

The firm operates Falcon Crest, a condominium and hotel project at Rancho Mirador, Naranjo. In addition to land development, the firm operated a real estate brokerage and ran a subsidiary, Condo Kings, to sell that type of property. Taylor also listed City Plaza, Plaza Leon and Two Rivers Ranchettes as development projects, but at least the properties in San José were not yet developed.

One or more Vault employees began leaving the downtown office 90 minutes after the raid. Two more, both women dressed in the distinctive Vault green uniform, were ushered out of the building shortly after Taylor’s suicide. One or both were fighting back tears. The firm’s lawyer also left around the same time. Police blocked off the entire pedestrian mall from Calle 5 to Calle 7.

Ms. Faulkner said that she had been inundated with more than 120 telephone calls Tuesday from concerned investors. She and Strange have been keeping in close touch with investigators since they filed the criminal complaints two weeks ago. 

However, she said she was not sure that the company could be saved. She said that she was unfamiliar with probate laws in Costa Rica and that she, like everyone else, was unprepared for Taylor’s suicide.

Ms. Faulkner said that she was impressed with Taylor and the potential of the company when she came to Costa Rica less than a year ago. She primarily was responsible for the remodeling of the new offices and the construction of the two nightspots in Jacó.

However, she said something happened in April to change the way Taylor managed the firm. He began selling assets.  Ms. Faulkner and Strange offered to purchase The Vault from Taylor but said they never could get enough financial information.

Eventually, the pair found that bills were not being paid and that the company did not have much cash. Taylor, in an interview published June 6, admitted to a cash-flow problem but said the business was fundamentally sound.

In addition to the three downtown locations, Falcon Crest was the target of a raid, as were Vault offices in Jacó. A lawyer’s office in Sabana also was investigated.

Taylor’s operation may have accumulated between $50 to $100 million from investors. One officer said a year ago that the firm was attracting substantial investors at the rate of two or more a week. There may be as many as 300 investors. The total is far smaller than similar high-interest operations that failed within the last eight months. The Villalobos Brothers operation had at least 6,500 creditors, and Savings Unlimited had about 2,500, according to estimates.

Taylor may have over-extended because he sold off his expensive helicopter, although he frequently continued to use photos of the craft in advertising.

Taylor also pictured the Manta Ray, a famous tourism catamaran in his ads, but his firm never owned that craft. Instead the firm owned a scale model of the craft, and it was this that was pictured in the advertisements.

Although many persons had their differences with Taylor, most would agree with Ms. Faulkner who said that the Chicago native was "absolutely the best salesman I ever met."

Taylor had a gun permit and was said to always carry a weapon. Prosecutors who raided the headquarters knew this, but there is speculation that the Judicial Investigating Organization agents assigned to guard Taylor had not been briefed on this point. An investigation is being conducted on how he was able to kill himself while in custody.

Faulkner says raids did not have to end in tragedy
This is a statement by Kells Faulkner, operations manager of The Vault, on the suicide of Roy Taylor:
 

Suicide is a selfish act. I believe it is always tragic when someone chooses to take their own life rather than take responsibility for their own actions.

Today’s events need not have ended in tragedy. However, the circumstances that led Roy Taylor to 

take his own life were reflective of the due process of law responding to certain perpetrated acts of fraud and violence.

I commend the Costa Rican authorities and government for their immediate action and concern and regret that a welcomed visitor and guest in this great country generated a problem and, by his own choosing created a horrific end for all to witness and absorb in spite of Costa Rica’s professional, swift and conscientious response to a need for assistance.


 
July 4 bash confirmed
for U.S. citizens

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yes, Virginia, there will be a July 4 party of U.S. citizens a week from Friday.

The U.S. Embassy finally posted a notice on its Web site Tuesday noting that the 4th of July picnic again will be at the recreation center of Florida Ice and Farms, the parent company of Cervercería Costa Rica, the beer company.

And there will be plenty of beer and hot dogs, if past efforts are any indication. The recreation area between San José and the Juan Santamaría Airport is on the Autopista General Cañas. More information is available at 233-3296. 

The event is only for U.S. citizens, and passports are needed to enter the event.

Although the announcement by the American Colony Committee stressed consumption and games, perhaps the most significant part of the event is the raising of the U.S. flag by the U.S. Marine detachment at the U.S. Embassy.

The event runs from 8 a.m. to noon to avoid afternoon rains. 

The event this year also marks the first anniversary of the raid by investigators on the Mall San Pedro location of the Villalobos Brothers and other offices of Ofinter S.A.

The raids were the first indication that the two brothers were under investigation for their practice of giving creditors 3 percent a month interest on their money. In part because of fear of another raid, the brothers closed their operations the following October, much to the distress of the estimated 6.500 clients who had loaned them perhaps as much as $1 billion. The creditors were distressed more when one brother, Enrique, vanished. He continues to be an international fugitive.

Some cynical U.S. citizens claim the Costa Rica investigators deliberately picked the date of July 4 as a further insult to the predominately North American creditors.

The gathering by U.S. citizens is the first opportunity to estimate the population loss, if any, experienced by the U.S. community as a result of the default by the borrowing company and several other similar firms.

Marines ambushed
by Colombian rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — At least 12 marines have been killed and eight others wounded in a rebel ambush of a convoy on a remote northern highway. 

Authorities say the marines were escorting a civilian truck convoy between the towns of Carmen de Bolivar and Zambrano Tuesday when the rebels hurled explosives and opened fire on them. 

The soldiers fired back, killing five guerrillas before the other assailants fled. Authorities say rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are to blame for the incident. 

Separately, the army says 34 suspected members of a far-right paramilitary group have been captured in a military offensive in central Colombia. The army also says troops confiscated a helicopter with air force logos on it. 

Colombia is mired in a 39-year civil war which involves the rebels, paramilitaries and the military. The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade. 

Monetary Fund chief
in Argentina to help

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The head of the International Monetary Fund is here meeting with President Nestor Kirchner. Horst Koehler is working with the Argentine government in hopes of helping it solve its devastating economic crisis. Since the economy collapsed 18 months ago, millions of Argentines have lost their jobs and sunk deep below the poverty line. 

Koehler is the fund’s managing director, and he is in Argentina for the first time since the country defaulted on $95 billion in debt in December 2001. 

Local reports say that Koehler is pushing for a three-year loan that would allow time for new President Kirchner to reform the country's banking systems and renegotiate foreign debt. President Kirchner has been critical of the fund and many others here blame the institution for Argentina's current economic troubles. 
 
 

12 Ticos win visas
to live in the U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just 12 lucky Ticos have won a lottery that gets them an immigration visa to the United States.

Results of the 2004 so-called "diversity lottery" show that more than 110,000 persons have been notified. Some 50,000 permanent resident visas are available each year, but not every winner takes advantage of their luck.

There were 27 winners in Nicaragua and 13 in Panamá, according to tabulations of the results. The purpose of the lottery is to make available visas to persons in under-represented countries.
 
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Effects of court ruling on race will be far-reaching
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Affirmative action supporters at the University of Michigan were delighted by Monday's Supreme Court ruling that colleges and universities may continue to use race as a factor when considering college applicants.

By a narrow five to four majority, the court upheld the approach used by the University of Michigan Law School that considers race as one of many factors in the admissions process.

Civil Rights groups see the Supreme Court decision as an endorsement of affirmative action programs.


Analysis on the news

"Make no mistake about it, the court has reaffirmed, in no uncertain terms, the right of institutions to take race into account in admissions. This is one of those days that reaffirms our faith in our system of laws," said Theodore Shaw who is with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund.

But in a second ruling, the Supreme Court issued a warning of sorts to colleges and universities not to place too much emphasis on race in the admissions process.

By a vote of six to three, the high court ruled that the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions process was flawed because it provided minority students with too much of an advantage over white applicants. The university rates applicants on a points system and routinely awards 20 points, or one-fifth of the points needed to guarantee admission, to minority students simply on the basis of race.

This second decision pleased Jennifer Gratz. She sued the University of Michigan claiming illegal discrimination after she was denied admission in 1995.

"The court today said that their [University of Michigan's] undergraduate policy is wrong and 

students deserve to be treated fairly. To me, that is a victory," she said.

The legal and practical impacts of the affirmative action rulings are potentially far-reaching. Colleges and universities are now free to continue to use race as a factor in admissions, but they must not formalize the process to the point where there is the appearance of reverse discrimination.

Lee Bollinger, who was president of the University of Michigan when the two lawsuits first started making their way through the court system, told CBS television that the ruling upholding affirmative action is a victory in the struggle to achieve racial diversity in U.S. higher education.

"What yesterday's decision did was to give a clear majority of the court that held, for very solid and eloquently stated reasons, that race can be considered to get an integrated student body in order to better educate all students for the modern world," said Bollinger, who is now president of Columbia University. "So, in that sense it is really profoundly important and now gives a clear Supreme Court precedent on this major issue."

Georgetown University law professor Susan Low Bloch says the Supreme Court's reaffirmation of affirmative action programs to foster racial diversity will have an impact not only on colleges and universities, but on the private sector as well.

"What the court has decided is that a university can consider race in trying to get a diverse class and that will be influential for both public universities, private schools that take federal aid, and private businesses that have contracts with the government," she said.

The five-to-four majority opinion on the court in support of affirmative action was written by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has emerged over the years as one of the court's leading centrist voices. But in her opinion, Justice O'Connor also expressed the hope that within 25 years, racial preferences to encourage diversity in American higher education will no longer be necessary.


 
 
Panamá Canal will be marketed by 7 U.S. ports
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seven major port authorities in the United States will sign agreements with the Panama Canal Authority over the next few weeks, with the goal of increasing trade in what is called the All-Water Route between the U.S. eastern seaboard and Asia, via the Panama Canal.

The authority said it will sign memorandums of understanding with port authorities in New York/New Jersey; Norfolk, Vir.; Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, South Carolina; New Orleans, La.; Houston, Texas; and Miami, Fla. The authority said the signings are an "example of all parties' desire to work together to promote economic development, generate jobs, and increase trade."

More than 60 percent of Panama Canal traffic originates from or travels to the U.S. eastern seaboard, according to the authority, which is an autonomous entity of the government of Panamá. The U.S. government says ships bound for Japan from the U.S. East Coast save about 4,800 kilometers by going through the canal, while ships sailing from Ecuador to Europe save about 8,000 kilometers.

The former U.S. charge d'affairs in Panama, Frederick Becker, said in 2002 that the United States continues to be the largest user of the Panamá waterway and is "vitally interested in its 

efficient, safe, and secure operation." He added: "Thus, it is fitting and logical that the Canal Authority has been reaching out to the United States for products and services."

At the signing of a U.S.-Panamá agreement on protecting the waterway from environmental pollution incidents, Becker said Panamá was doing a "superb job" of running the waterway. "The safety record — not to mention the profit record — of the Canal Authority has been impressive, to say the least," he said.

The Panama Canal Authority is responsible for the administration, operation, and maintenance of the Canal. The Authority replaced the old Panamá Canal Commission, which came into existence in 1979. That commission operated the canal during a 20-year transition period that passed full control of the canal from the United States to Panamá in 1999.

The new partnership will provide joint marketing activities to generate new shipping business. The activities will include promotions, advertising, and data-sharing to allow for forecasting of future trade flows and market trends; market-studies exchange that could benefit the parties in future product development or business ventures; and technological interchange to spur cutting-edge programs in the shipping and maritime community.

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