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These stories were published Thursday, June 26, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 125
Jo Stuart
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Roy's revolver was custom-made and very tiny
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Roy Taylor carried a custom-made, five-shot revolver so small that he could beat a metal detector when he carried it.

That was the description associates gave of the weapon that the owner of The Vault probably used Tuesday to kill himself while he was in police custody.

More on The Vault

The weapon only was about four inches long, lacked a trigger guard and contained five rounds of .22-magnum ammunition, said Rodney Strange, who was an investor in Taylor’s companies.

The weapon, one of three, was custom-made in San José, he said, adding that the beefy Taylor could hide the deadly revolver in his fist.  Taylor’s wife, Lilliam Corrales Barquero, also had a similar weapon but declined to carry it, preferring instead a standard .38 special, he said. Both are believed to have had weapons permits.

Strange said a third copy of the tiny revolver was owned by Joseph Azzara, who was known locally as the radio personality Joseph King and later as a Vault vice president. The weapon was so tiny that it did not cause a bulge in a man’s pocket, Strange added.

The matter of the weapon came up because the Judicial Investigating Organization has launched a probe into how Taylor, under custody in his own offices, managed to kill himself.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Police sticker decorates Vault offices

Kells Faulkner, chief operating officer of The Vault, said Wednesday that "even in death Roy Taylor found a way to diminish someone’s life,"  if investigators are fired as a result of the suicide. 

She came to the defense of the investigators involved in the case and said she feared that they may lose their jobs unjustly. She said that the case was one of white-collar crime and only a strip search would have been able to uncover the tiny weapon because Roy Taylor was a master at many skills, including concealing a weapon.

She said that once she witnessed Taylor enter a bar through a metal detector and then chortled that he had beat the system.  She said Taylor placed the tiny weapon behind his belt buckle and the skilled security people operating the metal detector thought that the scanning device was activated only by the metal belt buckle.

Ms. Faulkner said she supported the work of the investigators who raided The Vault offices on the downtown pedestrian mall Tuesday. "It’s not like they had a reason to pat this guy down," she said of investigators.

Attempt to hijack motorcycle backfires badly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two motorcyclists gunned down another man Wednesday afternoon in San Antonio de Belén either with the intent of stealing the other man’s cycle or in an attempt to kill him.

The victim, Ricardo Jiménez Aguero, became yet another victim of a possible vehicle hijacking. But this one had a twist.

As the two assailants tried to flee on the same cycle, the driver ran into a utility pole and may have accidentally discharged his weapon. He was dead, and the passenger suffered injuries.

Jiménez went to Hospital México where he was in stable condition. He became yet another victim of hijackings.

Only Tuesday, the Judicial Investigating Organization announced a string of arrests and said they broke up a band of vehicle hijackers. Seven persons were arrested in Tuesday morning raids and six persons already were in custody.

The band that was arrested was blamed for at least 35 carjackings. And this case, too, had a twist. The carjackers would change the looks of the vehicle to fit another that was properly listed in the national registry of vehicles. Then they would sell it to unsuspecting purchasers.

Investigators used newspaper classified ads to conduct sting purchases of the suspected vehicles. To make the false registrations, investigators said the gang had inside help at the national registry.

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Pacheco wants
to go to work

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

His physician is giving Abel Pacheco high marks and said the 69-year-old president may be back at his desk Monday.

The president wants to return, too, said a release from Casa Presidencial. The release quoted cardiologist Manuel Eduardo Sáenz Madrigal as saying that Pacheco was doing so well that additional medical checkups would not be necessary.

Pacheco decided at midday Monday to take a week off. That decision was made at the urgings of his personal physician, Sáenz.  But the word went out that the president was only suffering from fatigue. Later reporters learned that the real reason was hypertension. Concern was expressed from several quarters of the country.

Pacheco is himself a physician and a psychiatrist. While he is taking a week of rest Lineth Saborío Chaverri, first vice president, is in charge of the government. 

Toledo’s cabinet
submits resignations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — The entire cabinet of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo has officially resigned, as opinion polls show his approval rating has dropped to 11 percent. 

Members of the cabinet submitted their formal resignations Tuesday, earlier than usual. Peru's cabinet ministers generally offer to resign before Independence Day, observed July 28, or at the end of the year. 

Monday, President Toledo said Peru is at what he called a "breaking point" and that changes will be made. 

Toledo's approval rating fell to 11 percent after a month-long teachers' strike and other protests forced him to declare a 30-day state of emergency in May. Critics say Toledo's declining popularity is due to his failure to deliver on campaign promises to create jobs and bring about prosperity. 

Observers say the president must appoint a new prime minister and cabinet with broad appeal and the ability to work with the opposition to return stability and confidence to the nation.

Newspaper publisher
roughed up by gang

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala— The founder and publisher of the Guatemalan daily newspaper El Periódico says armed men invaded his home and held him and his family hostage Tuesday over reports published in his paper. 

Newspaper publisher Jose Rueben Zamora says at least 12 armed men held him at gunpoint and beat his two sons while warning him to stop "upsetting people in high places." 

Zamora has become known for his stories on government corruption. Diplomats and government officials have condemned Tuesday's assault as an attack on the freedom of the press.  Police say they are investigating the incident.

Cuba put out book
about dissidents there

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba has stepped up its campaign against dissidents by publishing a book about 12 security agents who infiltrated the ranks of the activists to gather information. 

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque Tuesday unveiled the book, "The Dissidents," by government journalists Luis Baez and Rosa Miriam Elizalde. 

Perez Roque says the book is based on interviews with the agents. The foreign minister also said the book proves that so-called dissidents were what he called a creation of the United States. 

The book's publication comes more than two months after Cuban authorities sentenced 75 activists to lengthy prison terms for treason and subversion. Many of them were rounded up after meeting with the top U.S. diplomat on the island, James Cason. 

Cuban authorities accused the defendants of working with and receiving money from the U.S. government to undermine President Fidel Castro. The activists and American officials deny the charges.  Governments, international organizations and Pope John Paul II have called for the dissidents' release. 

Earlier this month, the European Union decided to restrict political and cultural contacts with Cuba because of the crackdown. The Castro government responded by calling a mass rally in Havana to denounce the EU move. 

Ex-beauty queen
slain by rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian government said leftist rebels have murdered a former Miss Colombia and her husband about six months after kidnapping the two. 

The government said an army patrol found the bullet-ridden bodies of Doris Gil and her husband, Helmut Bickenback, Monday near the town of La Palma, about 70 kilometers northwest of here. Officials said the soldiers were on a routine patrol in the area when they found the corpses of Ms. Gil, who was Miss Colombia in 1957, and her spouse. 

The rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had kidnapped the two in December and demanded a $3 million ransom for their release.  The Colombian government condemned what it called the fresh act of barbarism by the FARC, and sent condolences to the victims' relatives.

Bootlegged wood found
at furniture factories

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in San Vito Coto Brus visited five furniture factories and found a total of 5 million colons in bootlegged lumber.

The investigation was done in conjunction  with the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energía. The lumber is worth about $12,500. The lumber was being used in the manufacturing processes at the various furniture works, but the operators did not have the appropriate permission for the lumber, police said.

Neighborhood dispute
ends with a machete

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A neighborhood dispute in Palmar Norte turned into a murder about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. A man slashed a female neighbor with a machete in the public roadway.

The victim was Emilce Quirós Méndez, 37, a woman who had been involved in a court case against her neighbor. She left the house Wednesday to do some errands and the neighbor, an agricultural worker, came at her with the machete and cut her fatally on the neck, said investigators.

The woman died at the Hospital de Ciudad Cortés, and the man, identified by the last names of Salazar Rodríguez, 25, was arrested at the scene.
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Roy Taylor even kept his many investors guessing 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six months ago a reporter asked a prominent downtown businessman "So what’s the deal with Roy Taylor?"

"People give him money," the businessman replied.

"And, and, and . . . ," said the reporter.

"People give him money," the businessman replied a second time breaking into a wide grin.

The implication was clear: Giving money to Taylor was more or less a one-way street.

Another North American resident characterized Taylor as a predator who always was on the lookout for excessive advantage in a deal. He was a supersalesman who was not content with making a fair profit.

Even now some of his closest associates are not sure who he really was. And few people have a good reason why Taylor would suddenly kill himself some five hours into a police investigation into the operations of The Vault, the high profile investment operation that seemed at times more marketing hype than a solid investment concern.

Still the business hired many sharp, smart bilingual Costa Ricans and North Americans to court and woo mostly U.S. and Canadian investors. The business was so fragmented that Kells Faulkner, chief operating officer does not know how many clients the firm has. Taylor told her 47. She now estimates more than 300.

Divide and conquer was Taylor’s technique. He spawned at least 50 corporations. In a typical deal a North American would be offered part ownership of a business, perhaps a real estate development project or perhaps a fiber optic lighting business.

All the information was closely held by Taylor, his chief bookkeeper Aracelly Valverde or his wife, Lilliam Corrales Barquero. The two women were arrested Tuesday as part of the multiple raids of Vault property in the Central Valley and Jacó and Naranjo.

Taylor seemed to have a different story for every investor. In interviews with A.M. Costa Rica he made statements that former associates contradicted immediately. 

Despite being outwardly affable, Taylor was feared by many, particularly those who knew he carried a gun. They thought his reputation for a quick temper and violence was deserved, particularly when he was drinking. At the very least, he was quick to go to court.

Brian Smith of Heredia, an expert in fiber optics lighting, became a partner of Taylor and invested $35,000 in December 2000. Smith said he was supposed to get 4 percent interest on his money. He claims that when he tried to get his money back after his relationship went sour Taylor offered him either $10,000 or a prolonged legal battle.

Smith chose to go to court, and claims that Taylor fabricated felony charges and evidence. Smith was hoping for a quick resolution to his case this month, something that will not happen now.

Sometimes Taylor would act in a way some might consider petty, particularly when the situation involved the owners of the Hotel Del Rey, individuals who sometimes were involved in disputes with Taylor.

Two months ago the Hotel Del Rey management vacated offices in a nearby building on Avenida 1 owned by The Vault. For some reason Taylor became upset and plastered the storefront windows with hand-lettered, derogatory phrases about the Del Rey.

When asked about the problems Taylor vowed that he would convert the property into a bar and dance club to compete with the Del Rey.

The Vault operated Condo Kings real estate sales opposite the Del Rey bar. Condo King salesmen would sometimes strike up acquaintances with imbibing tourists at the bar and try to get them across the street to buy a condo.

Taylor’s principal condo project at Naranjo, Falcon Crest, is believed to be far behind in constructing condos that already have been contracted for.

Taylor’s marketing was a classic example of overstatement. He claimed his firm was the leading financial adviser in Latin America, and a lot of visiting North Americans believed this.

His newspaper advertising also was brash and frequently included images and statements that could not be substantiated. The classic example is the catamaran Manta Raya, operated by Calypso, which is based in the same building in which Taylor had an investment office in Los Arcades on Avenida 2.

The advertising suggested that The Vault owns the boat. But what the Vault owned was a scale model of the boat that was on display in front of its former headquarters in the Los Arcades building. That may be why prosecutors and investigators tried to raid Calypso Tuesday morning. They, too, were taken in by Taylor’s advertising.

A.M. Costa Rica staff
Municipal police guard entrance to the principal offices of The Vault Tuesday.

When he killed himself Taylor almost immediately became a Costa Rican legend. But he was so larger than life a lot of U.S. and Canadian citizens suggest in jest that he still is alive and that his suicide is other than it appears.

Meanwhile, some sources close to Lilliam Corrales Barquero said investigators took her to Hospital Calderon Guardia Wednesday afternoon where she is under guard. Both women were scheduled to face their first court session today. At that session a judge will decide if they should stay in jail or be placed on bail.

The Vault investigation was on hold Wednesday while the Judicial Investigating Organization tried to figure out how Taylor managed to get his handcuffed hands on a gun so he could kill himself.

The purpose of the investigation is wide-ranging. Investigators are studying allegations of fraud, money laundering and financial intermediation. The last charge means borrowing and lending money at interest without being properly licensed to do so. One agent also said that possible tax crimes also were being studied.

Investigators also are trying to see what kinds of connections existed between the Vault and other high-interest money borrowing operations that have collapsed in the last eight months. Among these are the Mall San Pedro firm operated by Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho and Savings Unlimited operated by Louis Milanes.

Taylor had at least $300,000 invested with the Villalobos Brothers, but that money simply may be funds handled as a service to clients. The Vault would collect and post monthly interest from the Villalobos Brothers into various client accounts.

The interconnection among the seven or eight high-interest firms in the Central Valley is a logical area of investigation for agents because all seemed to experience financial trouble when the Villalobos Brothers closed their offices last Oct. 14 in fear of another police raid.

Pair in The Vault case
warns of quick scams

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Scamsters already are trying to get money from customers of The Vault with the promise that they can get back investor money.

Kells Faulkner and Rodney Strange, both officials of and investors in The Vault, said that they had heard of several scams where persons invoked their names. The pair filed complaints against Vault owner Roy Taylor and were instrumental in sparking the raid that closed down the business Tuesday and resulted in Taylor’s death.

Ms. Faulkner said that she and Strange have held no conversations and have held no meetings with anyone about trying to salvage their money or the money of other investors. But she has hired her own lawyers. She warned Vault clients to be wary of persons making unrealistic promises.

Ms. Faulkner said that she and Strange were working within the law. Once they know the points of law involved and their own abilities and capabilities, they will make a general announcement via A.M. Costa Rica to alert Vault clients, she said.

The pair also have been bombarded by telephone calls from clients seeking their money or at least information on the status of the companies.

When other high-interest investment operations crashed in the last eight months, some lawyers and others began promising a quick return of investments by individuals who paid money up front. So far no money is known to have been recovered, even though one group published a solicitation ad in which they said "We’ve  got ours."

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