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These stories were published Monday, July 25, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 145
Jo Stuart
About us

Mafia influence felt
Costa Rica becomes wire room for world
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The face of Costa Rican Internet gambling has changed from retail to wholesale.

In addition to accepting bets from individuals, mostly from the United States, some of the the bookmaking organizations here are targeting illegal gambling operations with overtures and advertising in order to serve as their offshore betting center.

The concept is attractive to illegal gamblers in the United States because sportsbooks and betting operations here are immune from  U.S. law enforcement, although individual U.S. citizens are not.

The problem is that the bulk of the U.S. bookmaking operations are mob-related and frequently associated with loansharking operations that extort three digit interest from hapless gamblers.

The new nature of the gambling business here became public with the May arrests of 36 persons associated with the Bonanno crime family in Queens, N.Y.

The office of Queens County, N.Y., District Attorney Robert A. Brown said:

“The indictment also alleges that the ring used a non-traditional 'wire room' in the form of an 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.”

In other words the North American bookmaking operation remains responsible for paying gambling winners and also collects the major part of the losing bets. The Costa Rican betting operations take a commission and are guaranteed income no matter the result of a bet.

A quick check of sportsbook advertising in The Tico Times shows the change in appeal. For example, in its ad this week addresses bookmakers and says “I can show you how to make more $$$, work less and decrease legal exposure.” makes a direct appeal to “bookmakers . . . agents . . . runners. . . “ So does, whose ad asks “Are you a bookmaker?”

These companies are not seeking customers in Costa Rica but in the United states where most private bookmaking is illegal.

The problem with gambling control centers or wire rooms located in the United Sates is that they are vulnerable to police raids. In the May arrests, law officers raided wire rooms at 136-72 72nd Ave. in Kew Gardens Hills and at 147-19 Jewel Ave. in Flushing. But the Costa Rican operation was untouched.

Said District Attorney Brown's office:

“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. 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.

“These gambling websites typically store their information on computer servers outside the United States –- some in Costa Rica and Curacao –- and "bounce" their data through a series of server nodes in efforts to evade law enforcement.”

The district attorney's office said that the single bookmaking ring that was busted up in May was a $180 million a year operation and placed up to 2,000 bets a day.

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

Then in the following month, Brown's office announced the indictment of 12 individuals –- including reputed Bonanno crime family capo and acting consigliere Anthony Rabito, 71, and reputed soldier Salvatore Scudiero, 72, and 10 alleged mob associates –- on enterprise corruption and gambling charges involving the operation of a $10 million illegal gambling enterprise and also loan sharking.

The investigation included telephonic eavesdropping that intercepted thousands of illicit conversations, physical surveillance and intelligence information, said the district attorney's office. Although not specifically stated, the loansharking and gambling operation clearly were linked to the earlier arrests, which also relied on telephone eavesdropping. The ring is accused of extorting 165 percent interest from borrowers and using physical violence to collect debts.

Top Costa Rican law enforcement officials expressed surprise at the change in the nature of the local gambling operations. They were unaware of the New York arrests. However, they expressed concern about possible mafia infiltration here. Several persons with mob affiliations have been arrested here. Even more have visited.

Even as early as 2002 law enforcement officials were talking about mob links to Costa Rica. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York announced the arrests in December 2002 of 27 alleged mobsters, and said that the investigation has turned up a gambling link to Costa Rica in which employees in the United States were channeling bets to Costa Rica via telephones. Little came of those allegations.

The alleged Mafia members arrested then in New York mostly were members of the Luchese crime family. Earlier the same year in May the personal bookmaker of the Gambino family crime boss John Gotti, Dominick Curra, was arrested here, and he was believed to have maintained some kind of betting operation in the La Sabana Oficentro where he was arrested.

The sportsbooks here, of course, are where many North American young people support their stay in Costa Rica. Some of them are working illegally under tourist visas.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 25, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 145

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Five murders mar
weekend in area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five persons were murdered this weekend in and around San José, and at least one of the killings appeared to be a planned hit.

That victim, Rolando José Solano Rodríguez, 31, was shot four times by two men on motorcycles a little after midnight Sunday morning.  Police said he was shot as he sat in a parked car with a woman in front of the Arte Plaza in San Pedro. 

The killers pulled alongside the car, witnesses said, and shot Solano without any apparent discussion.  The killers didn't steal his money or his car and the woman was unhurt, police said.  They did say that Solano was scheduled to be a witness at a trial and that may have been the motivation behind the killing.

Police arrested three persons accused of killing a local store owner.  The victim was Dagoberto Aguilar Barboza, known as “La Barba,” or “the beard” to his friends. He was shot in the back three times as he left his small eatery late Saturday evening to take a walk.  His restaurant, La Puriscaleña, is located west of Avenida Central.  It specialized in chicharrones, a popular Costa Rican snack that is made with fried beef. He died in the doorway of his store. 

Police said they arrested three suspects, one of which was an ex-employee.  The suspects were identified by the last names Reyes, Madrigal and Moreno.  Police said they detained them shortly after as they drove a pickup in front of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.  Police said that inside they found a .22-caliber firearm.       

Another small restaurant worker died in Cartago Friday night when he was shot by a man who stole only sodas, police said. 

That victim, José Tobias Chaves Cervantes, 43, was attacked as he tried to close the restaurant El Estadio at about 10:30 p.m., police said.  Police said they arrested a 19-year-old suspect with the last name Llama. The murderer didn't find any money after he shot Chaves, so he drank a soda and ran, said police. Police said they arrested the suspect about three hours later. 

Another robbery attempt Saturday resulted in the death of a father of three, police said.  Alejandro Mirando Rodríguez was shot as he drove in Santa Ana Saturday night by someone who tried to steal his motorcycle.      
Police are also looking for a Nicaraguan named Toto, they said.  Toto is accused of killing a 24-year-old with the last name Estrada.  The two got in a fight Saturday night.  Estrada was shot at least six times.  Estrada died minutes before he was admitted to Hospital San Juan de Dios.  There were no witnesses police said. 

Nicoya Annexation
remembered today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is a legal holiday in Costa Rica commemorating the voluntary Annexation of Nicoya.

It was in 1824 when an assembly in Nicoya ratified the long-standing relationship between that area and the rest of Costa Rica.

The annexation gave the country its Guanacaste region, including the Nicoya Peninsula and its world-class beaches. The alternative for the residents in 1824 would have been to join with Nicaragua. But the Guanacaste area has been joined with Costa Rica administratively during Spanish colonial times as a matter of convenience.

Residents from Guancaste still maintain a separate culture that stresses cattle ranching, unique foods and even a unique vocabulary laced with many words relating to the environment.

As is the case every year, the president will hold a cabinet meeting in the public park in Nicoya. This year President Abel Pacheco will assemble his Consejo de Gobierno at 10 a.m. It is a good bet that many of the presidential candidates also will show up to campaign.

The day will be celebrated all over the country with bands and parades and commercial variations. For example, Multiplaza, the shopping mall in Escazú, is trying to attract customers with entertainment related to the holiday. For employers, the day requires double time for workers. So most will be off.

The U.S. Embassy as well as Costa Rican government offices will be closed.

Bodies of crash victims
recovered in Flamingo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The bodies of Justin and Jack Ruetz, the young Flamingo residents who were still missing from the plane crash in Flamingo July 16, were recovered Sunday afternoon, officials with the Cruz Roja said. 

Justin and Jack were the last two missing victims.  Rescue workers pulled the body of pilot Greg Gund out of the water a week ago.  They recovered the bodies of the boys' mother Cindy and California residents Paul and Connor Kells shortly after the crash. 

Officials are still investigating the cause of the wreck, which happened about a mile and a half off the coast of Flamingo.

U.S. defeats Panamá
for Gold Cup victory

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States soccer team won its third Gold Cup after beating Panamá 3-1 in a shootout after regulation ended with the teams tied 0-0.

The gold cup final, in East Rutherford, N.J., was a clinic on goalkeeping with both Kasey Keller of the U.S. team and Jaime Penado of Panamá having several spectacular stops. 

With the game still scoreless after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime, the game went into a shootout.  Santino Quaranta, Landon Donovan and Brad Davis all managed to score for the United States on Penado.  Felipe Baloy was the only scorer for Panamá.    

Democrats to discuss environment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Democrats Abroad will hear from environmentalist María Elena Fournier at their Saturday morning meeting. The speaker is president of the Costa Rican conservation and environmental group YISKI.

The meeting will be on the third floor of the Aurola Holiday Inn in San José. Everyone in the community is welcome to hear her analysis of the challenges facing the environmental movement in Costa Rica and YISKI's work to promote conservation, said an announcement. Those who wish to attend may call  David Sagel at 249-1856 or e-mail him at for information and reservations.
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A great response when you do not have the foggiest
Quedarse al bate

“To be left holding the bat (without knowing how to swing).” This is rather a lengthy translation for a very short dicho. But it’s difficult to translate the implied “sense” of this expression without adding a bit of explanation.

Of course, Ticos know a lot more about soccer than they do about baseball, and if you gave a Costa Rican a baseball bat chances are he wouldn’t know what to do with it.

When I was a young soccer player our coach tried to teach us to play baseball. Though I could run like the wind and I could catch the ball, I could not hit it with the bat to save my life. Kicking a ball seemed to come naturally. Hitting it with a stick did not.

But the real meaning of quedarse al bate is that one just doesn’t understand something, not in the sense of not comprehending a foreign language that’s being spoken to you, but simply that no matter how hard you try, you just don’t get the concept. Politicians are masters at manipulating this, They give a very long, complicated speech and at the end everyone claps but no one has really understood a thing of what was said.

Another favorite use for this dicho is when you don’t understand — let’s say — geometry, for example. When vexed by a particular equation you might throw up your hands and exclaim ¡me quede al bate!

Me quede al bate can also be used when people talk very fast making it difficult to catch what they’re
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

saying. And, if the speaker is a Tico, he or she will gladly repeat what they said more slowly for you. Every Costa Rican knows what quede al bate means, so do not be afraid to use it.

If you are trying to explain to a carpenter what you want and he gives you a perplexed look, you can ask ¿Se quedo al bate? And if they replies Si, repeat slowly your instructions again, and maybe use some examples. It is very bad to be “all at sixes and sevens,” as the British say, and be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves. But this little expression quedarse al bate can help you to open the door to explanation.

It’s a dicho everyone can use and understand, from the president of the republic down to the simplest campesino. So, the next time you’re confused and just don’t get it, simply scratch your pate and say Me quede al bate.

Nicaragua's Alemán has new plan to escape detention
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Former Nicaraguan president Arnoldo Alemán is headed toward release from confinement due to an obscure provision in Nicaraguan penal law.

Alemán, through his lawyer, Mauricio Martínez, has applied for release from his home confinement due to his claimed chronic health problems.

Nicaraguan law provides for reintegration to family life for inmates with severe disease or life threatening chronic illnesses. This release generally is accompanied by proof of reform and acceptance of culpability by inmates in the later portions of their sentences.

The restructuring of confinement means that Alemán will be absolutely free to go anywhere within Nicaragua without any restiction and travel abroad upon application. However it does not reduce the legal validity of the conviction for money laundering he received in 2003.

Sources within Aleman’s residence, Hacienda El Chile, report that the normally implacable Alemán is visibly nervous and is pressing his lawyer and political allies to move the case forward as rapidly as possible. He is concerned that the international community or the government will move to stop his latest attempt to win release from confinement. He has publicly stated that if he is free to travel and meet with his party supporters, the entire judicial process will end in his favor.

The case is in the final stages of the evaluative process for “rehabilitative confinement” and has been aided by a report from the forensic medical examiner noting Aleman’s chronic obesity and the associated health problems he has purportedly suffered since his confinement.

His last hospital stay was for a minor finger surgery that produced a three-month hospital recuperation. The hospital stay was remarkable in that he received as many as 70 visitors in one day and the entire
Liberal party apparatus was virtually moved to his hospital room. He also recently delivered a video taped speech to party members in the last two weeks showing him to be robust and full of energy.

The Alemán manuever has produced considerable controversy in that the newly assigned judge hearing the case, Roxanna Zapata, is married to a supplemental magistrate to the Central American Court of Justice.

Both Zapata and her spouse, Sergio Quarezma, were hand-picked by Alemán for their patronage positions and are intense Liberal party loyalists. The Procuradoria of the Republic has opposed the application. However, the Fiscalia or attorney general’s office supports Alemán’s case. The split again falls along party lines as the two legal offices are divided in their support of Alemán.

The Frente Sandinista led by Daniel Ortega has officially opposed the move, deriding the manuever as a ploy by Alemán to gain his freedom with the assistance of the Bolaños government.

The official position is contradicted by the assignment of the case to Judge Zapata which was done outside of normal rotation in the judicial control office. The  support staff of the Managua court system is dominated by Frente loyalists, and such a manuever would not have occurred absent at least tacit party acceptance.

Independent commentators have noted that this is the first cynical step by Ortega in completing his part in the deal with Alemán in their “pacto” to dominate Nicaraguan politics.

In the event that Alemán gains release from Nicaraguan confinement that does not end his legal problems. The government of Panama and the United States have publicly indicted that Alemán and his family are subjects of money laundering cases and that he could be indicted in either country at any time. Further, his political ambitions are still blocked in that his conviction precludes his ability to run for elected office.

Very simply . . .  your choices here in Costa Rica of finding your dream home are limited to:

1. a Tico home:  claustrophobic, cold water, and postage stamp land size.

2.  a rare American-style home . . . normally at a VERY inflated price . . . in Grecia, a town of 50,000 less than an hour from San José  there are MAYBE five existing homes for resale suitable for most "gringos."

3.  a renovation;  problem here is that it typically costs more to remodel than to build from scratch.
And of course, we have all heard the horror stories about building in Costa Rica: the builders that absconded with the money —  the five-year wait until completion — the shoddy workmanship . . . and so on.

BUT... think for a minute:  "what do Ticos do when in the market for a new home?"  ANSWER:  "they BUILD" So...just maybe...the horror stories are an exaggeration... or....

The simple fact is this:    BUILDING IN COSTA RICA IS SAFER AND LESS RISKY THAN BUILDING IN THE UNITED STATES.... and obviously the cost is less.

If you are having problems finding your dream home... talk to us.  We work with a small group of very talented and very honest builders who guarantee their work... honor their contracts... and live in the areas in which they build. 

Call us... and come and visit... and see for yourselves .

Call today or e-mail for an appointment:    011-506-444-1695 or 011-506-841-5782  

Free trade pact may be lined to penalties for China
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush urged members of the House of Representatives to vote for the Central American free trade agreement, saying that the trade deal would bring more peace, prosperity and democracy to the hemisphere.

“This bill that the House of Representatives will be voting on next week is pro-jobs, pro-growth and pro-democracy,” said the president Thursday.

As Bush made his speech at the Organization of American States in Washington, his administration struggled to gain enough votes to pass the agreement in the House of Representatives.

The Central American trade agreement, known as CAFTA, grants duty-free trade privileges to six Latin American countries. The pact has been criticized by Democratic Party and Republican Party legislators for threatening U.S. jobs.

In an effort to win over opponents of CAFTA, leaders in the House of Representatives have approved a vote to impose trade restrictions on China, which is accused of taking even more American jobs by manufacturing goods at lower prices.

Republican Party Congressman Phil English is one lawmaker who opposed CAFTA until the administration agreed to a tougher stance on China trade.
“My main concerns about CAFTA had to do with how it fit into our overall trading policy,” said  English. “Now that the administration and Congress are clearly on a path to dealing with the China trade problem, I feel much more comfortable voting for CAFTA.”

English said that his China bill will help level the playing field to allow American companies to compete with the Chinese. One of its provisions would impose “countervailing duties” or punitive tariffs on Chinese imports that are found to be subsidized by the Chinese government.

Under current law, the United States cannot impose countervailing duties on “nonmarket” economies like China, which has a Communist government. Economists say that a new anti-China trade bill may be hard to enforce, because it is difficult to determine which goods have been subsidized when costs are not based on supply and demand.

Albert Keidel is a China economist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “If you have no way of determining whether those costs themselves are legitimate or not, whether they really represent scarcity in the economists’ words, whether they represent supply and demand, then it’s very hard to say that you should impose a countervailing duty.”

The effort to link China trade restrictions with the Central American deal may not make much economic sense, according to analysts, but could be necessary if President Bush wants to avoid a defeat on CAFTA.

French have secret meeting with Colombian rebels over famous hostage
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

French government negotiators are holding secret talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, in an effort to win the release of politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels more than three years ago.

Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe gave France permission to negotiate with the guerrillas in the Colombian jungle, but he continues to reject rebel demands to trade scores of hostages for hundreds of FARC prisoners.
The government is not commenting on the talks, other than to confirm they have taken place.

Ms. Betancourt was kidnapped while she was campaigning for Colombia’s presidency as a leftist candidate in early 2002. She is one of about 60 political hostages taken by FARC in the last seven years, including three U.S. intelligence officials.

Ms. Betancourt is a French and Colombian citizen, and was once a political science student of French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin when he was a professor.

Jo Stuart
About us
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